homemade limoncello recipe prep

Newsletter recipients and Facebook fans will remember my recent Limoncello Challenge – where I took two extreme steeping rules and put them to the test. And I have to say … the results were surprising.

To fully tell this story, I need to go back to when I first tried the homemade limoncello that knocked my socks off (in a totally cool and appropriate way, that is). It was given to me by Marcello’s mamma who understood it was love-at-first-bite and immediately offered up the recipe.

1 liter of alcohol
1.5 liters of water
500 grams of sugar
peeling from 4-5 large lemons

Simple, right?

… and the best part? The lemons only have to steep in the alcohol for four days!

Now – fast-forward a few years and I’ve heard of recipes that call for varying amounts of alcohol vs water, varying amount of sugar and the most controversial variant of all … the number of days the lemon peel has to steep.

On a recent Calabrian Table Tour, one of the participants swore by her recipe that called for a 40-day wait.

“40 days? Are you kiddin’ me,” I told her (in a polite and respectful way, of course). “You only need FOUR … and I’m gonna prove it.”

You see, I was convinced that many US-based chefs and experts on Italian cuisine swear by the 40-day rule because making limoncello “should” be hard. But I wasn’t buying it.

So I made two batches of limoncello using the same bottle of alcohol, lemons from the same tree (in our yard!), the same alcohol/water ratio and equal sugar. And I waited.

After four days I made Batch One. After 40, Batch Two …

homemade limoncello recipe

and I put them to the test with everyone who walked through our door and visited our B&B.

The results shocked me.

During our first mass tasting, I was the lone American with a group of a dozen Italians. My husband jokingly called the two batches “The Italian Recipe” and “The American Recipe” and interestingly enough the Italians overwhelming choose the 40-day “American” recipe. (11-to-1)

Over the next several tastings, the numbers evened out a bit with more people choosing the 4-day batch. In the end, however, the 40-Day Limoncello was preferred.

Here are some of the tasters’ comments.

40-Day Batch Pros

“The limoncello is smoother, you can barely taste the alcohol.”
“There is a stronger lemon taste.”
“It tastes sweeter.”
“This one is easier to drink – it doesn’t even taste like liquor.”

4-Day Batch Pros
“It is stronger-limoncello should be stout.”
“It is not overly sweet.”

I even preferred the 40-day batch because, like my fellow tasters, it was sweet and smooth.

It should be noted, though, that *everyone* who participated in the taste test, even those who chose the 40-day batch, agreed that while it did have a better taste, it wasn’t worth waiting the extra month.

So, tell me. Do you make homemade limoncello? How long do you let your lemons steep?

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8 Responses
  1. I’m a 40 day girl! The first recipe I used to make limoncello was based on forty days so I have always followed it. I also use the peel of fifteen lemons!! I love the taster’s comments…now I know why I can’t stop after one glass!

  2. A friend from Salerno swears that good limoncello needs only one day macerating in the alcohol. She says the key is the Amalfi Coast lemons, and that 24 hours is all that’s needed to extract the flavorful and fragrant oils out of the peels. So maybe the lemons themselves make the difference?

  3. Carol

    Why is the juice of the lemon not used? I did one batch using juice to replace some of the water in the sugar syrup. It was my best batch of limoncello ever. ~Carol

  4. Alina

    What type of alcohol do you use? Vodka, Rum, Rubbing Alcohol???? Honestly, I would like to give it a try, all in the name of science of course. đŸ™‚ Alina

  5. hi – hopping over from expatsblog – and couldn’t resist this post – I have some very fond memories of nights out with Limoncello at a fab little Italian restaurant in Devon – it’s one of the few things I miss now that we are in Portugal!
    might have to start putting some lemons aside ….

  6. Leonard

    When you say alcohol, do you mean white wine or spirit?? alot of different kinds of alcohol out there. give me one brand you use.
    please and thank you.

  7. Ursula

    We love the 4 day method but only use 3/4 C of water and 3/4 C of sugar with 1 liter
    of vodka.

    We spend the winters in California where we can pick the lemons free and the vodka is
    $5.99. Here in Canada the lemons are $8.00 and the vodka is $26 per liter.

    Regards, Ursula from Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

  8. Patty

    We got our recipe form our cousin in Calabria. We use 12 US Organic lemons and let is steep for 20 days, all other ingredients are the same.

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