I went to Italy early last year, for a friend's wedding. The entire wedding weekend, we drank this delicious Italian lemon liquor, Lemoncello. I've been thinking about making it myself, using the lemons from the lemon tree in our backyard, ever since we drank the last drop out of the bottles we brought home from that trip.
I found a bunch of different Lemoncello recipes online, mostly following the same, general process:
1. Zest lemons.
2. Infuse vodka.
3. Lots of wait.
4. Filter. Filter.
5. Add syrup to zest-infused vodka.
6. More waiting as flavors combine.
7. Filter. Filter. Filter. Filter.
9. Wait a bit more, as flavors mellow.
10. Drink! Finally.
The recipes vary wildly, some taking as little as 2 weeks, other's taking months. After selectively modifying & combining a few of them, I started my 1st batch of lemoncello 2 months ago, using only the [absolutely delicious] lemons from our lemon tree. The process of removing the zest of 30+ lemons, using a vegetable peeler & a paring knife, meticulously cutting off any white pith (which, if left in, will leave your liqueur bitter) literary left my fingers numb for a week afterwards. My vodka has been sitting in a glass gallon jar at the bottom of my pantry, infusing lemon flavor, ever since.
I've let my lemon peels infuse the vodka for 2 months, which might seem crazy when you could infuse for as little as 2 weeks, but apparently the shorter process will cost you in taste. While my vodka has been steeping, I've been assembling bottling supplies, designing and printing the labels, and fantasized (a lot) about drinking my hopefully delicious Lemoncello. From the research I did, I learned that the infusion is ready for the next step when the peels crack like a potato chip. If it bends instead of breaking, they should continue to infuse. So, for the last few weeks, I've been checking the peels for doneness, and finally, yesterday, the scooped-out-peel cracked with a delicate little crush.
Subsequently, I spent all of yesterday filtering, adding syrup, filtering some more, bottling, wax dipping, labeling, and ribboning, my very 1st, homemade batch of Lemoncello. In terms of "aging" the Lemoncello, there seems to be a few different approaches. Some of the "rush" recipes don't call for any waiting time at all, after the addition of the syrup (hence, the "rush"). Others call for bottling right after the addition of the syrup, and then letting it sit and combine/mellow simultaneously in the bottle. And a few, meticulous, long-winded recipes call for you to let the Lemoncello sit for another 2 months in the infusion container after addition of syrup, before you bottle it. Then, after you bottle it, wait some more before you drink it, to allow it the flavors to mellow further.
Personally, I am curious how the outcomes will differ, if all that wait is really worth it?
Since this was my first batch, and in the spirit of recipe-tinkering, I chose to bottle half of the batch right away, and let the second half combine in the gallon jar before I bottle it. Now, both halves will spend a minimum of 2 months sitting in a dark corner, to allow the lemon infused vodka to combine with the syrup, and then for another month after I bottle the second half, for the flavors to mellow.
Since the Lemoncello should mellow in darkness, I was planning on storing the bottles in the cardboard box the bottles came in, but then I had a brain flash. What if I make the gift bags & store the bottles directly inside. Win-win, right? So, I spent the rest of the evening making these cute little gift bags (which only took a couple of minutes per bag to make) using some linen scraps I had left over from another project.
After 2 months of extremely impatient waiting, I am so happy to have a tangible product in hand (even though it won't be ready to drink it for a minimum of another 2 months, & even then, I'll leave if for several more months after that, to achieve a really mellow, soft flavor).
And I kind of love how they turned out! This summer, when the Lemoncello is finally ready to drink, we can gift these (I love, love, LOVE having homemade, ready-to-go hostess gifts for dinners, parties & get-togethers on hand), and all we have to do is grab one while heading out the door.
Instead of sharing a half-baked recipe that is still in tinkering-mode, I thought I should point the way to some Lemoncello sites instead. Luckily, there are a lot of great Lemoncello resources out there, with recipes, tips, tutorials, and comprehensive instructions. Here is a collection:
1. LemoncelloQuest - a great resource with TONS of information
2. WhatsCookingAmerica - good recipe with great instructions
3. Allrecipes.com - basic recipe, with great ratings
4. Shutterbean - basic tutorial, with step-by-step pictures, for a quick Lemoncello.
5. SeriousEats - DIY Lemoncello