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Limoncello- WTF???

I'd heard Mario Batali and Giada DeLairentiis singing the praises of limoncello, so when I saw some at Costco I bought it. Of course, Mario and probably Giada have access to time-honored Italian homemade family recipes, if not product, but I have to send out a general query- is it just me, or is limoncello supposed to taste the way Lemon Pledge smells? It was made in Italy, for what that's worth, and ir smells and even looks pretty awful. I'm rarely disappointed in liquor normally. I can't picture putting it in anything I'd want to drink but i'm certainly open to suggestion.

Frankly it smells more like lemongrass than lemon zest.

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  1. What brand? just like anything else, there are good ones and bad ones. Homemade is best. Also how did you drink it? it should be served ice cold straight from the freezer, preferably in frosted glasses.

    7 Replies
    1. re: JMF

      In addition to JMF's important advice (put it in the freezer) and experience (there are good ones and no-so-good ones), have you considered...

      Maybe you just don't like it!? Just because Mario Batali and Giada DeLairentiis like it, you have to?

        1. re: JMF

          Been told that Italians always make there own. And, I've also found that I don't like any of the store brands that I've purchased (too sweet, even when ice cold). But, about a year ago, I found something that I do really like. In my mind it's limoncello, but it's made from grappa (maybe that's why I like it). Can someone explain if this would be considered limoncello?

          Bortolo Nardini "Acqua di Cedro"


          Edit: Oops, my bad. Description says it is made from grain alcohol. Don't know why I had a different idea.

          1. re: jman1

            Cedro is Citron, not a lemon. It is a very old type of citrus with an exceptionally thick rind that is often candied and used in holiday breads and cakes, and the oil is often used in perfumes. So, while this is similar to a limoncello since it is a citrus based liqueur, it is definitely its own beast.

            I am not sure if this liqueur is a distillate of citron, where the citron is thrown in the still with grain alcohol and distilled to produce a clear base spirit to which sugar is added. Or if the citron is infused into the grain spirit like limoncello, and then filtered clear. I think it may be the former. I haven't tasted this product, but it sounds like a cleaner, more aromatic liqueur than limoncello is.

            1. re: JMF

              Citron also = etrog; according to Wikipedia. Used on a Jewish holiday.

              Nardini describes this as a liqueur, which I take to mean that it's been flavored as opposed to distilled.

              1. re: jman1

                Liqueurs can be infused, flavored, distilled, macerated, etc. What makes them a liqueur is the added sugar, and usually at a max of 80 proof, but usually lower. I think it may possibly be distilled, because it is clear.

                1. re: JMF

                  Thanks for the info. In any case, it's quite good. I treat it like a limoncello (i.e. keep it in the freezer and sip a small amount after dinner). Less sweet, but more pricey.

        2. It can also be made at home, and can be quite good.

          1. If Danny DeVito knows his limoncello and you are easily starstruck, ' ... there's a taste of life from this famous fellow ...' . Why Johnny Bench is there I don't know.

            Danny promoting his booze : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPxC-3...

            1. When I make it at home, it often has a slight brownish-tinge, and also a rather peculiar, fermented/rotten smell. This is normal: I do this whenever I can get ahold of Meyer lemons. Try tasting it: I think you will find it tastes much better than it smells.
              Or, make your own:
              1) buy a zester
              2) remove the zest from 3 supermarket lemons
              3) place into 1 c. of cheap vodka
              4) shake/stir daily for about 2 weeks
              5) add 1/2 c. of simple syrup (50-50 mix of white sugar and water), or to taste
              6) try not to drink it all up in one sitting

              8 Replies
              1. re: jerry i h

                I just put up a whole bottle yesterday, I can wait to try it!! WInter is long in the NE, but this will just make it longer...

                1. re: jerry i h

                  I neglected to mention that I was using the traditional Italian recipe: soak entire lemons in vodka + simple syrup. Inevitably, one of the lemons would turn brown and give the smell, color, and taste an off-note. I think this comes from a small break in the skin that allows vodka to get in and lemon juice to get out. I no longer make it this way, and now use the recipe given, which uses only the zest. It does not look as cool sitting on your counter, but the flavor is better.

                  1. re: jerry i h

                    I would recommend the following recipe:

                    zest of 12-20 organic lemons
                    zest of one lime
                    1 bottle 100 proof vodka
                    1 bottle of 80 proof vodka

                    Mix the first three ingredients let sit in a mason jar in a dark cool place for 45 days. Shake container every day.

                    after 45 days strain zest using a coffee filter or a cheese cloth. add 80 proof let sit for 2 wks.

                    Many people add the simple syrup while adding the 80 proof. I usually don't add any choosing instead to add it to the individual drink I am preparing.

                    An even better option than limoncello is using blood oranges.

                    1. re: jerry i h

                      Actually, it tasted like Lemon Pledge smells, too.

                      1. re: jerry i h

                        HELP ! Ive peeled my lemons, ive had the peels in the Everclear for a month and the mix is still clear, will it change color? How much simple syrup do i make,, and when do i ad it? I have 750 of Everclear,,,,

                        1. re: slickk

                          how much lemon peel to how much everclear? Sounds like way too little peel.

                          1. re: slickk

                            My last batch of limoncello used 15 lemons to about 1 cup of everclear. It only took 3 days before the mix was ready to strain. You don't really need a recipe, just zest a ton of lemons and use enough everclear to barely cover the zest.

                            1. re: slickk

                              Try peeling 7 lemons for 1,000 ml alcohol/vodka/grappa

                          2. Most commercial Limoncellos taste like Lemon Pledge to me. I found one that doesn't, but it was a tiny airplane-size bottle (bought when I was travelling) and I don't remember what it was. Tragic.

                            If anyone has recommendations for a specific brand of commercial Limoncello that is non-Pledge-like, I would love to hear about it. Making my own would require the ability to plan ahead - something I've always been very poor at doing.


                            1 Reply
                            1. re: AnneInMpls

                              I haven't tried it yet, but the Devito one is supposed to be excellent. He asked the maker of one of the best limoncellos in Italy to make it for him and after much persuading he did. I heard the story from an inside source who has tried it and thought it very good. I should be getting a sample to review sometime soon.

                            2. Limoncello should be light, sweet, tasty and refreshing....not tasting of Lemon Pledge. Yuck! The thing is, the best lemoncello made in Italy come from the area around Sorrento, where they are grown organically with no chemicals whatsoever. The air, soil and other conditions are condusive to producing a sweet-ish lemon which is perfect for making the liqueur. They have a very strong aroma and very few seeds. Always served ice cold it's delicious mixed with champagne, but typically it's served at the end of a meal as a digestive.

                              1. Want another recipe? Tried and true...

                                Peel only of 6 lemons
                                1 liter of grain alcohol (90 proof)

                                add peels to alcohol and let sit for 7 days

                                After 7 days prepare 1 liter plus 200ml of water, add 400 gr sugar and mix.
                                Strain the lemon peels out of the alcohol and add to water/sugar. Refrigerate any remains.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: sparkalina

                                  I'm thinking of trying my hand at limoncello this spring, and I'm coming across recipes that take a week and recipes that take three months. What is the difference between the final products? Basically, is it the wait worth it?

                                  1. re: mordacity

                                    my 80 days hit this week so hopefully I will get time to strain and try tomorrow and will let you know...

                                2. I've had homemade limoncello made by a local Italian chef and it was heavenly stuff and not Pledge-like at all. He told us to keep it in the freezer and to sip it cold. Wow, was it good.

                                  1. WTF??? was exactly the reaction I had, too. In addition to the weird Lemon-Pledge aspect, it's sickly sweet. Not to my taste at all. Any ideas what to do with a bottle minus about one shot?

                                    1. Have to agree with the posters above. It's probably that there are good ones and bad ones. It's unfortunate your first taste wasn't great.

                                      I was in Italy a few winters ago and tried limoncello for the first time in Sorrento and Capri (the island is right by Sorrento). It was refreshing and had the most amazing aroma.

                                      1. In the summer of 2006, we hosted an Italian exchange student for 6 weeks. One of the gifts she brought us was a bottle of Limoncello from the Lake Garda area next to Verona. The unusual bottle was shaped like the lake. She also gave us a set of 6 Lemoncello glasses (small colored shot glasses) in a small metal rack. On the last night she was with us, we hosted a bar-b-q for some of the other families that also had Italian kids staying with them. Three of the Italian kids insisted on making pasta, in our kitchen, for the party. After much food and wine, I got out the frozen bottle and passed it around. It was so good! Everyone loved it. One of those parties that you remember forever.

                                        1. for an extra nice homemade batch use meyer lemons. You'll never use anything else.

                                          1. Thanks very much for all the observations, facts, and recipes! For the record, the Limoncello was purchased at Costco. I think I'll try making my own from now on- worth waiting for, from the sound of it.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: EWSflash

                                              even with really good stuff shake it with ice and sip out of a small glass so it aerates and stays cold.

                                            2. I've always had good luck with Villa Massa brand. Keep it in the back of your freezer until ready to drink.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: vino5150

                                                I think you need to just go to Italy. The only place I've ever had it was in Umbria...and I fell in love with it there and that was back when we could bring liquid on planes. I've never bought it here. Go on a trip and enjoy it the proper way....

                                                Costco????? common...

                                                1. re: foodmusic

                                                  Well, of course that would be the ideal, foodmusic...

                                              2. I need some feedback if anybody can. I have never done infusions before and decided to try my hand at them and came up with a clementine vodka, which tasted great; another with ancho chillies, which tasted interesting, somewhat like a tea; and another with meyer lemons in preparation for limoncello. Well, apparently I figured out how to make it taste like the aforementioned Raid. I tasted it only after a few days, but was stunned by this. Did I do something wrong or is the problem in the lemons? I tried Jerry I h's recipe (1 cup vodka, zest of three lemons (substitute meyer) and shake daily). tried it after about 5 days and my wife promptly kicked me out of the kitchen so she could clean everything I spit on. Both the clementines and the pepper tasted fine after just a couple of days.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Icantread

                                                  IASS. I left out one important thing: to the vodka, add 50% the volume of simple syrup. This is just a 50-50 mix, by weight or volume, of regular white supermarket sugar and water. What I gave was my own personal, secret recipe for infusions: tasting the vodka + flavoring, I can judge what else to add.
                                                  As we speak, I have the zest of 3 supermarket limes soaking in a cup of Reposado I got at TJ's for an Alexander Hamiliton. There is also the juice of said fruit, along with saccahine tabs and orange extract; I did a test cocktail, and it was pretty good and zero carbs.

                                                2. Has anyone tried Ventura Limoncello? It is made in Southern California with local fruit and has no artificial ingredients or dyes (thus no Lemon Pledge taste that some here unfortunately associate with limoncellos they have tasted.) Very fruit forward and delicious. I have a bottle in my freezer now.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: frittomisto

                                                    Went to Ventura website, and it looks like you can only find it in the CA area?

                                                  2. A friend in Paris made me a Baba au Limoncello, which as you can guess is a Baba au Rhum with the rum swapped out for Limoncello. It was really quite delicious.

                                                    1. I've found one in Boston that is really good and not pricey: Petrone, from Italy.

                                                      It was recommended to me by an Italian couple who runs a seafood joint and nearby liquor store in Somerville (Pescatore, for those from the area). It's sweet, but not too sweet, and very lemony. There is absolutely no lemon-pledge-factor going on, which I've definitely encountered in other brands. It's heaven, drunk straight, directly from the freezer. Also excellent as a mixer, or just with some tonic over ice (a grown-up lemonade).

                                                      Petrone runs $17.99 a bottle around these parts.

                                                      Here's the company's site. The label on the one I have is the same, but our bottle looks more like a wine bottle, and less squared/short:

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: litchick

                                                        I am in S'mville and LOVE that I found your post. I will definately try this, and Pescatore too. You may already know of, but if you don't you'll want to, Bella Ravoli on Main in Medford...a small pasta market with killer gravy & meatballs. The Italian g'ma who runs it is terrific...I can only imagine Sunday's at her house.

                                                      2. OK, I've changed my mind on this, since having some in Italy - at a little place in Milan they brought out a bottle after dinner, ice cold out of the freezer, and poured us several little glasses each. It was a homemade limoncello, and far, far better than the one I'd had before; this was actually pretty good: not as sweet, and it tasted like lemons, without whatever strange artificial taste the bottle I'd had in the states had. Still not one of my favorites, but I quite liked it, in this context. Quality of the experience and the quality of the drink itself both played a part; I still don't know what to do with a nearly-full bottle of some crap I bought a couple of years ago.

                                                        1. I think it could be the limoncello. Since it is from Costco, it may just be some thoughtlessly mass-manufactured product that cuts corners by using artificial flavorings and amped up sugar to cover the chemical-flavor. You may want to try to make it yourself, it's commonly made in Italy at home.

                                                          1. I'm looking for a great bottle of limoncello to give as a gift. The best limoncello I've ever tried was in Sorrento. Here in the U.S. I've tried a few different brands, but haven't found one that I really like. Also, the aesthetics of the bottle itself is important. Any suggestions?

                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: Gigi007

                                                              If you can get, I would suggest Ventura Limoncello -- all natural, very fruit forward, made in small batches using California lemons and with a sleek sophisticated bottle and labeling that doesn't have the "kitsch" factor of some limoncellos. Their web site lists retailers.

                                                              1. re: frittomisto

                                                                Thanks, frittomisto Sounds good. You can say that again about the kitschy bottles and labels of oh-so-many limoncellos. Personally, I find the bottle of Danny de Vito's limoncello off putting although I have heard the quality of the limoncello itself is good.

                                                                1. re: Gigi007

                                                                  When we stayed in Sorrento, the hotel left a bottle of limoncello in our room because it was our anniversary. It was the best, of course, but 15 years later, I have no idea of the name. I just remember it had a cork and looked homemade, although it had a commercial label. Guess that info doesn't help much! But it's true you should go to Sorrento if you want the best.

                                                                  Lately I am buying Pallini and it is wonderful. The owner of the Italian liquor store on Arthur Ave talked me out of buying the Devito version when it first came out, said it was way too sweet, so I've never even tried it. Don't know if I'm missing anything.

                                                            2. I'm loving the people that gave instructions on how to make my own! I will be doing that next Feb. or March, that's when they get ripe here. Thanks, all. You rock.

                                                              1. For those of you who don't like the sweetness, try it over ice with a splash of club soda...especially in the summer. sometimes i will drop a couple raspberries in the glass first.

                                                                1. FWIW: Only use organic lemons. Or, at a minimum, lemons you know were unsprayed. Commercial citrus food-standards are based on using the juice or meat, not the rind. The fruits are sprayed, treated, doused in... lots of stuff that would be completely unacceptable for any other fruits. You put your lemon zest in alcohol and the first thing that dissolves is the wax they coat the lemons with so they can keep for months without shriveling. Next come the pesticides that can be applied much later than any other fruit. Do yourself a favor and do not use supermarket lemons for lemoncello.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: Cross Eyed Bear

                                                                    I've successfully used supermarket lemons, but only after spraying each lemon with Fit(TM) and scrubbing with a vegetable brush, then rinsing in warm water. It is a bit of a time-consuming process, so for that reason and because organic lemons give you a greayer assurance of no residual, it's better to use organic lemons if you can get them. However it can be done with supermarket lemons with the proper care.

                                                                  2. I like Caravella Limoncello, I also keep it in the freezer. It's pretty easy to drink fast tho, so go easy on it LOL. Also, this is a concentrated version, sweet, tart, and with a huge kick.

                                                                    Note- This is NOT like the one shared with me by a friend who brought it back from Italy- that one was much lighter and subtler in lemon flavor. I like them both, though. If anyone has more recipes, I'd be interested- I want to make my own as well!

                                                                    Oh, after I posted this, I saw that the Caravella won a gold medal at the 2005 San Fran Spirits Competition. Nice!

                                                                    1. Personally I've come across a brand called Rometti Limoncello, is hand crafted all natural out of California, very smooth but still strong, not to sweet like so many. One of the best I've had and I come from an Italian family were I've had countless home made batches, this the closest to the real deal. Be careful many brands even some of the mass produced ones in Italy use artificial coloring yellow #5, and or flavoring which gives a very off flavor like Pledge from such brands as Pallini, Caravella, and others. If you can find it, go with Rometti.

                                                                      1. It tastes every bit as bad as it smells!