Until actor Danny DeVito acknowledged his heavy consumption of the Italian liqueur Limoncello the night before an appearance on the ABC talk show The View, very few Americans had even heard of Limoncello, let alone had the opportunity to sample it. Limoncello is a popular digestiv, or after-dinner drink, usually served ice cold in small ceramic cups. The ingredients of Limoncello are fairly straightforward: lemon essence, sugar, water and clear grain alcohol.
In Italy, the lemons used in commercial Limoncello production are grown in the southern coastal areas, primarily the region of Amalfi. Only the outer zest of the lemon is used to form the essence, not the pith or the fruit itself. Once the lemon zest has been collected, it is place in a clean glass container along with a strong pure grain alcohol such as Everclear, PGA, Italian grappa or occasionally vodka. The lemon zest and grain alcohol are allowed to steep undisturbed for at least two weeks.
On the last day of the steeping process, a simple syrup is made by boiling sugar and water until the sugar is completely dissolved. The contents of the lemon zest and grain alcohol are strained and poured into a new container. To complete the homemade Limoncello, the cooled simple sugar mix is added to the lemon-infused alcohol. This mixture is then placed back in a cool, dark place for at least three more weeks of aging, with daily agitation to keep the ingredients well-mixed.
After the third week has elapsed, the homemade Limoncello can be repoured into smaller bottles for serving. Limoncello is traditionally stored in the freezer right up until the time it is served to guests. Even the ceramic cups used for serving Limoncello are kept in the freezer in order to keep the beverage as cold as possible. Limoncello is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages served in Italy, but it has only recently become available as an export. Upscale restaurants around the world may offer limoncello to their customers, but many people prefer to make their own homemade versions, since the ingredients are easy to find and preparation is fairly straightforward.