The Limoncello Connection

Learn the history of the cool and delicious Italian cordial, and where to find it.

Creamy and icy, limoncello is like a liquid Popsicle for adults—perfect on a hot summer day. A cordial served as an after-dinner drink or digestif, limoncello is made with grain alcohol, lemon peels, sugar, and water. It was developed about 100 years ago in Italy, and regions from Tuscany to the Amalfi Coast to Sicily all take credit for its origins. 

Commercially produced and imported limoncello is available in liquor stores and restaurants, but it is easy to make at home. Il Castello in Mamaroneck and Alba’s in Port Chester make limoncello in-house. Both do it more as a gesture of hospitality than for profit and usually serve it as a complimentary after-dinner drink. “The customers love it,” says Lenny Balidemaj, the owner of Il Castello. “They always ask how to make it.” 

Grain alcohol, which is 190 proof (95 percent ABV), is not available in New York, but it is sold in liquor stores across the border in Connecticut. Graves and Everclear are two popular brands. Finished limoncello clocks in at 28 to 32 percent ABV. Some people substitute the vodka for the grain alcohol, which is 40 percent. But unlike vodka, grain alcohol is flavorless, and those with refined palates will recognize the difference. 

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Recipes vary, but they all follow the same basic principle. Simple substitutions produce variations like pistachio, tangerine, or chocolate. With imagination and experimentation, you can invent your own.  


Basic Limoncello
The famous Italian lemon liqueur is an easy DIY

10-15 lemons
1-2 liters grain alcohol
3-6 cups sugar
3-6 cups water


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Thoroughly wash the lemons, peel them, and combine the peels with the alcohol in a large container. (Use the fruit for something else.) Refrigerate container for 1 to 2 weeks. Boil sugar and water until sugar is dissolved and let it cool. Stir the two mixtures together and refrigerate for 1 day. Strain the mixture and the limoncello is ready to serve (preferably in 2-ounce glasses). Store the unused portion in the freezer (it won’t freeze because of the alcohol but pours out thick and smooth).

*Ingredient ranges determine the alcohol content and sweetness.


Limoncello by Il Castello Restaurant in Mamaroneck
Makes about 2 liters

14 lemons, chopped, with skin
2 oranges, chopped, with skin
2 liters of grain alcohol
4 cups of water
2 cups of Prosecco
2 cups of artificial sweetener such as Sweet’N Low
Triple Sec

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Mix all the ingredients except Triple Sec in a bowl and refrigerate for two weeks. Remove and cook in slow heat in a double boiler. Cool, drain, and serve liquid ice-cold. Add a drop of Triple Sec to each 2-ounce serving to offset the bitterness of the orange flavor.


Il Castello’s Peach Limoncello Variation:

Same as above, substituting peaches for lemons. Add a drop of grapefruit juice instead of Triple Sec.


Tony & Tina’s Limoncello Variations:

Tony and Tina Orilia of Scarsdale make limoncello at home and create several flavored variations. Using the basic recipe, instead of lemons, substitute any one of the following: a like amount of tangerines or oranges, 1 pound of peeled pistachios, 16 ounces of Nutella, or 2 pints of raspberries, strawberries, or walnuts.

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