Logical Lemon & Limoncello

Logic prevails and limoncello is made from lemons, now think for a minute more when you sip it.

Limoncello is a tradition in Southern Italy, Capri, Amalfi and surrounding areas of Naples especially Sorrento where some of the worlds finest lemons are cultivated. A drink made from pure alcohol and lemon skins mixed with watered-sugar. Unfortunately it is one of those industrial drinks sold in every corner shop as a souvenir which confuses many tourists leaving them with drinking chemicals.

I often compare with the dark Balsamico used globally on salads, a treacherous idea, a food product or a bad idea evolving from the commercialization of a traditional product, given in dowries, now exhumed and sold into a gas station product. And I blame Fini, the same way I blame those selling cooked grape must as balsamico. Must is from the Latin vinum mustum, “young wine” freshly crushed grape juice that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit. Then you concentrate it by cooking it to extract a dense, sweet mixture, and after no time it is ready to be used by Americans on their salads ~ a travisity to say the least.

There are conflicting stories about how Limoncello is made and here is how it goes: the lemons are often grown on trellises and the lemon shoots go up and down. The pruning of the fruits starts to happen after the fruits start to spurt, and at one point and time, many will grow up to the sky, while other under the foliage, cool from the sun and have the chance to become oversized.

The farmers, gardeners and those who cultivate the lemons take off the green lemons on the upside of the trellis and when pruning the plant to optimize the crop they harvest green unripe lemons. And so what do you do with the green lemons? Hence you make Limoncello and the classic Limoncello is said to be greenish and less yellow as you find in the corner store.

Some say Limoncello was born at the beginning of the 20-century in a small inn on Capri by a local lady, Maria Antonia Farace but I guess it could have been a tradition long before. As long as the Romans and Greeks were living in the south, and we know grape cultivation and winemaking reached Greece from Egypt, by way of Crete as early as 2500 BC. So, I guess fermenting of skins of fruits wasn’t something foreign to many and I am sure many households discovered it by cooking and separating the water from the other particles.

There is evidence of crudely distilled alcoholic beverages, liquors made from things like rice and mare’s milk in Asia as far back as 800 B.C., and later Mary the Jewess (around 0-200 CE) was the first known alchemist in history. She lived in Eygpt and invented processes and apparatuses that were used for centuries after that. Her story became something of a legend in later Arabic and Christian writings: https://vinepair.com/spirits-101/how-distilling-works/

But without getting off topic, or too far away from Limoncello, I discovered there are two sides to the story; one is the story of green lemons and the other is simply using ripe lemon skins and extracting the yellow color. The pigment known commonly as “lemon yellow” consist of plant pigments classified into four main categories: chlorophylls, anthocyanins, carotenoids, and betalains. The carotenoids basically impart the characteristic yellow-to-orange color.

A fancy limoncello ~ like it or not it is a bar’s version of a farmers drink

The bottomline is; if you are from Sorrento, or from the neighbouring Amalfi coast, each household has its own recipe, they varying depending on the type of lemon, and the varieties in southern Italy can vary from town to town, only kilometres away. You have numerous but to name a few;

  • Limone di Siracusa
  • Limone Costa d’Amalfi, Province of Salerno
  • Limone Interdonato Messina
  • Limone di Rocca Imperiale. Rocca Imperiale
  • Limone Femminello del Gargano. Gargano

I believe the best Limoncello is house made, grandma or grandpa’s secrets are used and it is traditional, and if you have a tree or you trellis the lemons, it will lead you into two different directions. So forgetting industrial types, what I know is they are all more or less made the same way; either you use green or yellow, and I assume it can be either.

The sfusato amalfitano lemon trees of the Amalfi region in western Italy bear fruit so sweet they’re eaten like apples including the rind, pith, and flesh by locals. This naturally sugary variety of lemon is called sfusato, meaning “spindle,” for its tapered shape and many argue its the best variety. History claims the production involved the whole town with the cultivation of the land and choosing the lemons to be picked reserved for men while transporting the fruit from the terraces was a job entrusted to women, but sometimes history are just confused by truth and myths.

But what we know is the peel of the Amalfi Coast lemon also has a superior aromatic potency than any most other species with an elevated number of oil glands. So lemon skins if yellow provides an intense yellow, we should take into consideration that color is important, even they all have a water-sugar added.

So we can argue about who makes the best or what color it should be, but the major differences are on sweetness and color, and in my view both work. But given the yellow in most industrial Limoncello is food coloring, I leave it up to you to decide what works best ~ it can be green if you come from Positano, or yellow if you come from Sorrento.

If your focus is color take the yellow made in Sorrento, the lemons are huge and in the fall they have hearty skins with plenty of extract. So forgetting color, it all boils down to sweetness and most importantly the temperature you store it, which is freezing, and the temperature you drink it.