It’s party time. Let’s make limoncello!
A traditional southern Italian digestif, limoncello is usually served ice cold from tiny little glasses. Traditional limoncello often manages to be both too bitter and too sweet for my taste. But when I first learned how to make a limoncello that is the essence of lemon – simple, pure, and clean – and opted to skip a super heavy dose of added sugar – I found an infusion I could love.
In this variation of limoncello, the lemons are hung in a sling over the alcohol to extract the pungent lemon oils into the alcohol for a pure lemon flavor without tartness, and just enough lemon simple syrup is added to round out the flavor.
I’ll admit that this technique is a bit rococo, but the whole sling contraption allows for a very gentle infusion. The alcohol volatilizes, penetrates the peel and drips back down, heavy with lemon oil. The closed jar creates something like a slow motion citrus oil pump, and the result is a bright, clean flavor.
Use well-scrubbed, organic lemons for this preparation, since the vodka will act as a solvent, pulling any residual pesticides or waxes from the peel, and no one wants their limoncello with a waxy pesticide chaser.
Ultra Light Limoncello
- 1, 750-ml bottle vodka
- 4 whole lemons, preferably organic
Later you will need:
- 1/2 cup sugar
- Zest of two lemons
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Clean and sanitize a large jar with a wide but airtight lid. I use a 5-liter Italian glass jar with a bail-clamp glass lid and rubber gasket. Similar jars are available in most houseware stores. A half-gallon mason jar should work too.
Pour the entire bottle of vodka into the jar. Scrub and dry the four lemons. Place you lemons in a sling of several layers of cheesecloth or inside a reusable mesh produce bag (these are the kind I have).
Tie the lemons inside the cheesecloth or mesh sling, and secure this sling to the outside of the jar with a length of kitchen twine. The idea here is to keep the lemons fully inside the jar, but suspended over the alcohol. Adjust the depth of your cheesecloth sling accordingly.
Tightly lid your jar. You don’t want any of that vodka evaporating away.
Store your jar in a dark, out-of-the-way place for at least three months, until the vodka in the bottom of the jar is a pale straw-yellow color. Try not to open up your jar for at least a few months. Basically, just leave it alone; nothing bad will happen if the infusion goes on a few weeks too long.
When the infusion process is complete, the vodka will smell and taste strongly of lemons. and the lemons themselves will look pale and kinda grey, almost like vampire husks of their former selves. Remove the lemons and the cheesecloth sling.
Combine the sugar, lemon zest and the freshly squeezed lemon juice in a small saucepan to make a lemon syrup. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then stir to dissolve the sugar into the lemon juice. Remove the lemon syrup from the heat and set aside.
When the lemon syrup cools to room temperature, strain it into the infused vodka. Discard the lemon peel. Stir the lemon syrup and infused vodka together.
Transfer the limoncello to a clean, sanitized bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Store the limoncello in the freezer, where it will last indefinitely.7