Limoncello–Make Your Own!

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The Canary Diamond of Liqueurs



Buon giorno!

Ah! Summer – Patio – fresh –light- lemon. Check all of the above.

Limoncello! I love the sound of the word. Have you ever known a word to exactly personify the food or the drink it represents? Limoncello is such a word. Go ahead – say it. Let it rollllll off your tongue. LEE-MON-CELLLL-OOOO.  YUP! That is exactly how it tastes. No puckering or tartness involved here – It’s light, it’s sweet, it’s fresh – it’s LEMON!

Limoncello definitely rocks my world. Of all the Italian liqueurs, digestivi, and after dinner drinks I have enjoyed – this refreshing lemon indulgence is by far my favorite. It slides down so easily even after the most rich and filling of meals. It definitely has a stomach settling effect for me. It does contain sugar, but remember that Limoncello is always consumed in tiny glasses and in small amounts.

A little geography:  The fact that it is a traditional after dinner choice for Southern Italians might have a little something to do with my bias. The hillsides of the Naples and Amalfi area that I love abound with lemon trees and lemons the size of your fist. So, why shouldn’t it be that this “canary diamond” of liqueurs originates from this very region of Campania? When wandering through the tiny towns nestled on the hillsides around Amalfi, you can actually smell the lemons. This jewel of beverages is available almost everywhere in that area.

And the history: Actually the origins of Limoncello follow a circuitous path. Lore dictates that the ancient fishermen of the Amalfi area used a form of it to warm up during the colder months. Legends also circulate that it had monastic beginnings –  with monks developing and drinking it.  It is said that the finest families of Sorrento and Azzurra, in  the bay area, served it to their guests around 1900. Most stories of actual production agree and converge upon the family of Massimo Canale, an entrepreneur of Capri, who registered the trademark in 1988. So production and world distribution, as we know it today, is fairly new by calendar standards.

Amalfi in your kitchen: I, of course, love Limoncello so much, that I want never to be without it. Follow my lead. Well then, how about creating a little Amalfi in your own kitchen? You will be surprised at how easy and inexpensive Limoncello is to make at home, and how wonderful it is to always have it on hand to enjoy whenever you want it.  It lasts a long time and is always kept chilled. Many people, myself included, keep the bottle in the freezer slightly propped so that it doesn’t spill out. I wouldn’t want to lose a drop. Limoncello will not freeze because of the alcohol content. Freezing it just makes it “super cold” for every occasion you choose to enjoy it.

The down and dirty: Many like to use grain alcohol such as Everclear. This makes a very potent batch and needs to be filtered a good bit. I have grown to like the ease of making my Limoncello  with vodka. It is faster, easier, and is very satisfying. I suggest not using your “Sunday best” vodka or “the Goose” for this task. It would be a waste of good vodka, really, as you are adding flavor to it. This is the time to settle for the “cheap stuff” like Smirnoff. I recommend 100 proof as the “proof” diminishes a little when you add the rest of the indgredients. The 100 proof ensures a “good kick”! Some like to filter the vodka a few times through a Brita filter. This is fine to do.

When not just any lemon will do: I strongly recommend using organic lemons for this exercise. There is a very good reason why. You should always clean and scrub your lemons before using them as we don’t always know where our lemons have been. However, even with scrubbing, pesticides and chemical washes are difficult to extract from your lemon skins even with the most diligent washing. These nasty substances WILL affect the taste of your lovely Limoncello negatively – so why would we want to risk a pristine result? Yes, organic lemons are the way to go.

Your surgical instruments: There are some items that you might need to make the process easier. These items are not obscure, and you might already own them. They are: a zester, a large glass container with a top, a fine sieve, a large funnel, and 2 one liter bottles for your finished product. You can re-use your vodka bottle as well.

Let’s do the “do”!!

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9 Organic Lemons

1 750 ml. Bottle 100 Proof Grain Vodka – Smirnoff is fine

3 c. Water

2 1/4 c. Sugar


Clean lemons with a brush under running water. Remove all stickers.


Zest lemons over wax paper for ease. Do not include the white pith which is bitter. You want the zest only.


You can also cut the rind from the lemons with a knife or peeler. However, if you choose this method, you must check the rind for white pith and trim it off if you see any.

Put your zest in large glass container.


Add vodka and water and cover.


If you decide to add a cinnamon stick – now is the time.


Let the mixture “steep” for 5 days at room temperature in a cabinet or darkened place.


Every once in a while, give the container a gentle shake – careful not to spill. The shaking helps the lemons to release more flavor into the vodka.

After 5 days, using a fine strainer or sieve to catch the zest (and the cinnamon stick if you used one), pour your mixture into a pot. (You can leave the mixture to steep more than 5 days and up to 40 if you like – but you get a light, lovely Limoncello after the 5 days.)


Add the sugar.


Now – heat the liquid, and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.


Take the pan off the heat and let the solution completely cool.

Pour your Limoncello into clean bottles using a funnel.


Keep in refrigerator or freezer for 2 weeks propped up so it does not leak out. No sampling until this step is completed.

Whoo hoo! Your Homemade Limoncello is ready to enjoy! Mmmm – there’s something about this stuff that is more satisfying when you make your own.

Keep it in the refrigerator or freezer so that it is always perfect. Serving it in chilled frosty glasses is a nice touch.

OR – Mix a little in a martini, pour over ice cream, or fruit salad! Sigh…come hither, my little “canary” friend.


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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography


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  1. Linda, You are amazing.
    I love lemoncello. The fact that I can NOW make my own so simply is great.
    I am pleased you are using organic lemons.

    As usual, I commend you on the photography.
    I look at the photos often to see if I am following the steps correctly. ,instead of wondering if I am doing it correctly.
    omg Im speaking Italian thanks to you !

  2. Susie Denton Kinder says:

    Don’t you use any of the juice from those organic lemons? I would think that some of it would be a boon to your limoncello.

    • Susie – This is a question often asked about Limoncello-making. The answer is no. Traditionally, all of the flavor for the liqueur comes from the skins. They sit in the liquid for plenty of time for the beautiful lemon flavor to permeate. The lemons can be put aside for another use as the the zest is all that is necessary for an amazing result.

  3. Thank you for your great instruction. But if you don’t mind; I have a simple question:

    You say “2 1/4 c. sugar” in integridents.

    Should I put “2 and 1/4 cup of sugar” or “2 times 1/4 cup of sugar” to my limoncello?

  4. Alice Shulman says:

    Do you need to sterilize the glass bottles? If so, how would you suggest?


    • Alice – You do not need to sterilize the bottles as you will not be sealing them as you would with canning. Just clean them well with hot soapy water and a bottle brush. The brush will depend on the size and shape of your bottles.

  5. Alice Shulman says:

    Thank you for your quick and helpful answer


  1. […] The Limoncello is optional, BUT it helps with the consistency of your sorbetto, as the alcohol prevents it from become too icy and rock hard. It provides just a hint of extra flavor. Have fun and make your own Limoncello using my recipe: Limoncello – Make Your Own! […]