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Another drink which I was frequently faced with during my year in Italy was Limoncello. It is extremely popular with the Italians and it is what is known as a 'digestif' meaning that it is a drink which is to be consumed after eating in order to aid the digestive system. Although there are a few other 'digestifs' which are commonly consumed after eating but Limoncello seemed by far the most popular.
Limoncello is a fairly new drink in the grand scheme of things, only dating back to the 1900s where an innkeeper in the South of Italy would give her customers a version of Limoncello after they had eaten. As it was so popular, the innkeeper began to bottle the liquid and to sell it. The family is still one of the leading manufacturors of the drink to this day.
How do you drink the product?
The product is to be consumed straight and in the form of a shot after eating in order to aid the digestive system and settle the stomach. It is not supposed to be consumed before eating and it isn't supposed to drunk in big quantities or mixed with pop. I learnt this first hand after suffering from a terrible hangover after not understanding initially how it was to be drank!
The drink is an alcoholic drink which is formed by soaking lemon rind in alcohol and sugar. It is bright yellow in colour and so it looks really pretty and summery, although it's a drink for all year round. It smells strongly of lemons which isn't suprising as it has been made from them and it tastes strongly of lemons too. It doesn't have the bitterness that is associated with lemons however and it is a touch sugary.
The drink does taste of alcohol but it isn't really evident especially if you consider the alcohol content. It is best served ice cold. I can't say whether this drink helps my digestive system or whether it helps to settle my stomach. I drank it mainly to fit in culturally while living in Italy and for memories sake now I'm back home again.
Packaging and Price
The drink comes in many different forms, bottles and prices. I usually buy the Luxardo Limoncello from Sainsburys now that I'm back in this country and it costs me £15 per bottle. It has a percentage of 27% alcohol so it is strong and this percentage may vary between different brands. The Luxardo bottle is clear so you can see the yellow liquid inside and it has a red screw top lid. There is a picture of some lemons on the front.
All in all, this is a lovely traditional Italian drink which supposedly helps to settle the stomach after eating. It tastes of lemons and smells of lemons so if you don't like lemons, you should probably avoid this one! It needs to be drunk in moderation and it isn't intended to be drunk with a mixer. This is like a little taste of Italy and it's a lot cheaper than flying there to experience a bit of Italian culture!
Theres nothing better than finishing a long lazy lunch with a limoncello digestivo.
It can be bought quite easily now in most supermarkets but I wanted to share a quick recipe.
To make 1 litre you will need 5 large unwaxed lemons, half litre vodka, 250g caster sugar and 300ml boiling water.
Carefully remove the zest from the lemons without any pith as that will make this bitter.
Put the zest into a clean lidded jar and cover with the vodka.
THis should be left for about a week for the lemon flavour to infuse. Agitate twice a day for best results.
The following week put the sugar in a bowl and pour over the boiling water, stirring until dissolved. Add this to your vodka and follow the same process of shaking twice a day for another week.
Now strain this into a bottle and bobs your uncle.
We keep ours in the freezer as its best served extremely chilled after a meal.
To me, nothing sums up the taste of summer better than a chilled glass of limoncello. This delicious drink, served usually as a digestivo, comes from the Campania region of Italy, with the main areas of production being around Sorrento, the Amalfi area and the islands in the Bay of Capri (Ischia, Procida and the isle of Capri itself). It is also made in Sicily, Sardinia and even the Maltese island of Gozo but it is best when made from Sorrento lemons because this variety contains a greater proportion of the zesty oils from which the drinks gets its characteristic flavour.
While limoncello is manufactured commercially, many people (in Italy - I know nobody who has made any in the UK!) make it themselves at home and it is said that it's quite an easy drink to make. There are many different brands but the most common ones (certainly outside of Italy) are Luxardo and Pallini. If you are souvenir shopping in Naples or Sorrento you will see lots of differently shaped bottles of limoncello - crescent moons, lemons, copies of local monuments; I did wonder about the quality of these limoncellos and bought a branded bottle in a shop selling local fare to take home to England.
I first tried limoncello in Italy when an icy glass was presented to me with my bill at a Naples trattoria. I was dining alone and was so excited about this exciting flavour that when I later met my partner after his business meeting I wanted him to try some. However, his Italian colleague explained that, strictly speaking, limoncello is a digestivo and drunk at the end of a meal. However, I have never been one to bow to convention (although I do impose my own - in England, no sherry before 6.30pm although a lunch time sherry is de rigueur in Andalusia) and do what I like at home; in Italy I do as the Italians do and usually drink limoncello after a meal though I was introduced to a refreshing aperitivo in which a serving of limoncello is topped up with tonic water.
How best to describe the taste of limoncello? Quite simply it tastes of the sun. How could it not? Just think of those beautiful vibrant yellow lemons ripening on the trees around Sorrento soaking up the sun. Limoncello has the zestiness of lemons but not the sour flavour as this comes from the juice which is not used at all in the making of limoncello. As it is quite a thick liquid it is certainly a liqueur though it is not too sweet and sickly. The alcohol content of limoncellos varies but the Luxardo, which I currently have in my freezer, comes in at 27%. Homemade versions tend to have a higher alcohol content. While limoncello is very refreshing and not at all sour, you do get a strong hit of alcohol on first tasting it though, dangerously, you can quickly forget you are drinking alcohol.
The colour varies quite a bit from lurid almost fluorescent yellow with a slight green tinge to a more cloudy gentle yellow. Personally I prefer one that looks a bit cloudy simply because it seems to be more natural looking. The greener looking limoncellos are simply made with greener lemons.
How should limoncello be served? In the Sorrento area limoncello is often served in ceramic glasses made especially for serving this liqueur (which can be bought in souvenir shops) but you can serve it in a small wine glass, a shot glass or a small tumbler. At home I keep the bottle in the freezer; the alcohol won't freeze but it will be perfectly chilled. I also pop the glass in the freezer for a minute or two before pouring the drink into it. Of course, be careful which glasses you choose for this. Instead you could serve the limoncello on the rocks though this is not the authentic way to do it. When you are served limoncello in Italy, the glasses are often frosted with ice as they are almost chilled first. Many bars and restaurants have marble counters with round holes in them and the bottles stick out of the counter. Underneath the bottles are chilling in ice so the bottle is close at hand but the limoncello is always the perfect temperature.
It's not all about drinking. I love to pour a little limoncello over some vanilla ice cream and I have tried a Saturday kitchen recipe for limoncello flavoured panna cotta which went down very well at a dinner party I held. Look out for specially packaged limoncello cake - a huge sponge cake flavoured with the liqueur which comes with a miniature bottle of limoncello.
Alternatively, those who prefer cream liqueurs (not me) may be interested to know that you can also get a cream version which is made with milk instead of water though I suspect that a cream liqueur couldn't capture that gloriously sunny flavour that the more usual version has.
A 70cl bottle of Luxardo limoncello costs around £16.00 but shopping around may get you a better price. If you have never tried limoncello before you may be able to find miniature bottles from specialists stores (Fenwick's Wine Store in Newcastle always has some on the counter if you are in that neck of the woods).
If the summer turns out to be as short lived as so often it is in the UK you can always conjure up a taste of the Med with a nicely chilled bottle of limoncello.
If you want to try making your own (and do tell me how it went) there are lots of different recipes to be found on the internet but here is a link to one made by Valentina Harris. Cheers!
Lemoncello, Limoncello, Limoncella.. it comes in various guises, home-made, Ligurian, Sicilian, Laziale - and it comes from different sources, and I'm in the lucky position of having tried them all. Some people go on wine-tasting tours of Italy, bravier people go on Grappa tasting tours, but me, I haven't really visited an Italian region without trying the Limoncello! Limoncello (because that is the generic - no brand required, name), is, unsurprisingly, produced from lemons. It is a slightly sweet, very potent spirit, of which you only need a little to get giggly, but, and here is the lethal point, tastes remarkably drinkable. Often it is given in restaurants as a digestif (after the meal to aid digestion, apparently!) and a bottle is left on your table... or in the stingier restaurants they pour it for you! Limoncello should always be served cold, my italian flatmate (source of all dining etiquette information!) insists on putting the small glasses which it is served in, in the freezer.. yes, the glasses, not the drink!.. for a short time before it is served. As for the drink itself, it should also be chilled. I only serve it cold in the summer, in the winter it is very nice on its own too. I've never seen Limoncello sold in this country, but I'm sure it must be, maybe I haven't looked hard enough. In Italy, I have seen shops that only sell it and nothing else, well, maybe a sideline in a couple of different kinds of wine. It can also be picked up extremely cheaply, it is very drinkable, indeed, as briefly alluded on earlier, I have been lucky enough to spend time in the company of an italian chap who made his own limoncello from the lemons in his garden, which tasted surprisingly good, although the alcohol content, unsurprisingly, was rather more substantial than commercially made limoncello! If you ever do come across it, in any guise, try some, it ranges from a soft light yellow colour to an
almost flourescent yellow. The taste differs generally in sweetness and alcohol content, as the lemons from further south (eg Laziale or Sicilian lemons) tend to be sweeter, but Ligurian Limoncello has more sugar content to counter-balance. It's also possible to buy a 'Crema di Limoncello' which is a creamy version, and possibly better for drinking on it's own. It's also extremely cheap, in Italy anyway, where it might cost about £3-4 for a large wine-sized bottle. I always bring a bottle back! And if you do find yourself left alone (or with a partner) in an Italian restaurant with a bottle of Limoncello, just thank god you weren't left with a bottle of Grappa instead!