Originally made using the rind of green and underipe lemons – to give it the bitter taste characteristic of a digestivo – it is now more often made with a riper, yellower fruit and enjoyed on different occasions.


  • 10-15 (depending on the size) unwaxed lemons
  • 1 litre alcohol (ethanol 90°/95° proof)1

for the syrup

  • 1200ml water (I use still bottled water)
  • 700g granulated sugar

Wash and dry lemons.
Peel the rind (without the pith) and place in an airtight jar.
Add alcohol and seal tightly.

Set aside in a dark place – out of direct sunlight – & leave to rest.
Swirl the jar once a day for the next 3-4 days.

Make the syrup by melting the sugar in water over medium heat and leave to cool. Filter the alcohol and add this to the syrup – stir and pour into pre-sterilised bottles. Leave to stand in a cool, dark place for at least 15 days before serving.

Another syrup recipe: 1.5 ltr of water with 400g of sugar.

Serve chilled or even straight from the freezer … Salute!

NB.   The liqueur may form a rim of suspended particles – these are the essential oils from the rind & proof this is a ‘natural’ drink.  These are harmless but can be removed by further filtering.  Using the the same method, you can substitute lemon for mandarin, fresh wild fennel or bay leaves.  Fennel (finocchio) & bay leaf (alloro) make excellent digestivi.  They require a longer distillation period however – 7-8 days.

1 – In US – Everclear – available in drugstores – can be used.

In NZ – vodka.


It is believed, from texts c. 1050 AD, Limoncello originated in Minori2 (in the Campania region of Italy).  It was called Limetta because of the small round fruit that was used in the liqueur.

The fruit had a sweet rind but a bitter pulp, hence the reason for its disappearance (they could not do anything with the pulp).  But the cultivation of other varieties – the ancestors of the ‘modern’ Sfusato Amalfitano – through years of cross-breeding meant that production, especially in the late 1800s, became popular in homes and even available to travellers through the locande.

Commercially, the liqueur took off in 1990s, being produced on a larger scale and for other markets.  However, it is the ‘IGP’ Certification (Indicazione Geografico Protetta) which guarantees the product’s provenance and authenticity – it denotes ‘true’ limoncello.  It means that the sfusato is only produced in this part of Italy, on the Amalfi Coast.  It is a way of proving that the lemons used to make the limoncello – the majority of which are the sfusato (other varieties, but with similar properties, are added) – are those of the Amalfi Coast.

Nowadays, limoncello is produced/made all over Italy where other types of lemon are used, & in some cases, dehydrated/powdered peel!

Introduced into Italy by the Amalfitan mariners before 1000 AD, ‘lemons’ arrived in the form of an ornamental plant (lemoncello de India) with small inedible fruit.  It was then cross-bred by farmers for many years to produce what was known as the Nostrato, the ‘father’ of the Sfusato Amalfitano.  The sfusato is considered a superior lemon all round – sweeter, more flavour, fewer pips, more juice, more aroma & twice as much vitamin C are just some of its properties.  It is the most prized of lemons and organically grown.

2 – A local uprising in Minori resulted in the death of the Bishop; in a bid to absolve their guilt, the Pope was sent some Limetta.  It certainly did the trick!  They were pardoned & Limetta went down in history!

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