Crema di Limoncello

With the warming weather, our lemons are practically falling of the trees. Here’s a lovely way to use them, homemade limoncello from guest contributor Garrett McCord. Enjoy! ~Elise

Limoncello is a traditional digestif (a drink served after the meal to theoretically aid in digestion, but also an excuse for another nip) served throughout Southern Italy, particularly in the area surrounding the Gulf of Naples. It’s produced by infusing a strong alcohol with the zest of plenty of lemons and then adding sugar, resulting in a sweet, floral, and citrusy spirit. It’s a bright and memorable end to a genial meal with friends and family. While there are many producers who have been making it for years, many families make their own. And why not? It’s so easy to do!

This particular, modern limoncello recipe was taught to me by my friend, Dennis Kercher, an adept home chef who for years ran a popular underground restaurant here in Sacramento called The Hidden Kitchen. He infused his liquor, Everclear being the best choice for its liver-shockingly high alcohol content and ability to adopt flavors, with lemons and then blended it with milk and sugar. He always served it at the end of the meal chilled – almost frozen – in tiny ice cold glasses that could hold no more than perhaps an ounce.

An ounce was more than enough. It was gloriously rich, almost like melted ice cream, with a kick that could send you to the moon (or at least home in a taxi).

I’ve adapted the recipe a bit by making it a bit stronger and adding a vanilla bean to give it a sweeter, creamier, rather indulgent flavor. Feel free to use regular lemons or Meyer lemons, though I use the regular lemons for their more assertive presence. This is a simple drink to keep on hand for yourself, for guests, or give out as gifts.

Crema di Limoncello Recipe

  • Yield: Makes a little more than 3 quarts.


  • 10 lemons
  • 1 (750-ml) bottle Everclear (a quality vodka will do if you can't find it)
  • 8 cups (1.9 liters) whole milk
  • 5 cups sugar (1 kilogram or 2.2 pounds)
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds and pod
  • cheesecloth
  • bottles


1 Zest the lemons using a lemon zester or the fine groove side of a grater. (Save the zested lemons and use them for some of our great lemon recipes!) Place the zest and the Everclear in a container and allow to infuse in a dark, cool place for a week. After a week has passed strain the liquid through the cheesecloth into a very large glass, stainless steel, or ceramic bowl.

2 In a large stockpot or sauce pan, warm the milk, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds and pod over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature (this will take a few hours). Discard the vanilla bean (wash it and save it for another use) and strain the mixture through the cheesecloth.

3 Combine the Everclear infusion with the sweet milk and stir together. Pass through a colander lined with cheesecloth to catch any solids. Funnel into bottles and store in the freezer. Be sure to leave room in the bottles for the mixture to expand if it freezes to avoid an explosion. Use within six months. Serve small amounts in chilled glasses.

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Crema di Limoncello on Simply Recipes

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  1. Lisa

    This looks great, we’re fans of Limoncello. We’re also vegans. And I detest when I read comments about people asking about recipe substitutions… ahem, but I must ask. Think this would work with almond milk? Or maybe coconut milk?

    I have no idea, Lisa. I suggest you try it out and if it does or not we hope you report back. ~Garrett

  2. Jenny

    This is a very good recipe! Thanks.

  3. Ali

    Perfect! I had wanted to try making homemade limoncello this summer. This looks wonderful!

  4. holunderlilly

    This sounds wonderful! I would love to try this out! But (probably due to my not-perfect English skills) I don’t quite understand the vanilla bean part – do I have to add the whole thing or do I have to scrape out the vanilla seeds first and then add both the seeds and the bean? Thanks for this recipe!

    Scrape out the seeds and then use the seeds and the empty pod. ~Garrett

  5. mia

    Hi, I heard that you can use heavy cream instead of milk–what are your thoughts? If using heavy cream, would sugar still be added?

    I imagine that if the thought of drinking heavy cream straight sounds appealing to you then by all means try it, but I think it would be way too heavy for most people. Give it a shot though and see how it works. ~Garrett

  6. Jessica J

    Oh my! I’m always looking for new adult beverage recipes to try. This sounds perfect for summer. Yum!

  7. Fifthpocket

    I’ve been making this for years and it’s the PERFECT summer dessert/digestif. The night that my husband and I got engaged, our waiter at the Publican in Chicago brought two tiny glasses to our table and I had to make some to recreate that perfect taste.

  8. Stephanie

    I have a milk allergy. Do you have a recommendation for an alternative milk to use? Perhaps almond milk? Coconut?

    I imagine any of these might work and cannot see why not, but haven’t tried it myself so you’ll have to give it a go yourself, Stephanie. ~Garrett

  9. Alecia

    This is probably a strange question but what kind of bottles would you recommend funneling this into?

    I just grabbed some from Cost Plus. ~Garrett

  10. Ella

    My mom and aunt have both made a version of this without milk, and it is quite tasty! My aunt once used meyer lemons, which was less tart. Think I might go home and have some, it’s sunny and warm up here in Washington!

  11. Alana D

    I’ve been looking for a refreshing drink for my birthday party next month and this might be it.

  12. Jeff

    I’ve made regular Limoncello with my own Key limes, and this should be good with them as well. Key Limoncello!

  13. Sanjeeta KK

    What gorgeous photos; the drink looks so refreshing!

  14. Andrea

    Hi, can you please clarify regarding the use of cheesecloths. Did you use the same piece for steps 1, 2 and 3 or do you use separate ones. Thanks.

    If I have enough I use different pieces. However, if you only have a bit it certainly won’t hurt to wash it between steps and reuse it. ~Garrett

  15. ellyn

    Do you defrost the same bottle each time you want a shot or do you make it in small bottles?

    Yes, I just use a large bottle and keep it in the freezer. ~Garrett

  16. KimH

    That just looks downright beautiful! YUM! Cant wait to make this, but I gotta get a hold of some Everclear. I’ve heard you cant buy it in Ohio. Sigh.

    Vodka will work. ~Garrett

  17. Judy B

    Looks really good! Would it be ok to use glass mayonnaise jars (quart size) to store it? We have saved several and if they’d work, that would be great. Thanks for posting!

    Shouldn’t be a problem. ~Garrett

  18. Linda

    Just as a aside, I know people who use Parmalat to make their crema di limoncello

  19. Dana

    For the vegans – limoncello is often made without the dairy, and in fact I actually prefer it that way, as it lets the lemons really show their stuff. It’s like boozy liquid sunshine.

  20. Nicholas Sloanhoffer

    Thanks for the Limoncello drink recipe. Serving this chilled seems like the best approach.

  21. Essay

    Really cool limoncello!

  22. Amanda

    Wish I saw this recipe earlier! I made some straightforward limoncello a few weeks ago and am still waiting to see… And by the way, I’ll be trying your Nocino recipe soon with black walnuts. The gathering you described sounds delightful and spontaneous! Would love to get in on some of that Sacramento Area food fun.

  23. Kim

    This was my first venture into Limoncello. It was easy to make and we loved it, my husband is hooked! I put it in a two different sizes of mason jars, some to share with friends and the rest to enjoy. I used Everclear and had no problem finding it in Georgia. It is much more reasonably priced that quality vodka.

    Thank you for sharing!

  24. Andrea

    I saw crema di limoncello when I was in Italy last week and regret not buying it. I did stock up on plenty of regular limoncello though which was a wise move.

  25. amanda

    Excellent! I have to try this! We just made a few batches of italian sweet milk liqueur, and it was INCREDIBLE. Next time ill make it less sweet, but the flavor was amazing. Lemon and milk infused vodka; tasted like malted milk balls. I made another batch with oranges, milk and loose chai tea in vodka and it was fantastic. This is going to be my next experiment with milky citrusy booze. Thanks, Garrett!

  26. juliemarg

    It’s amazing! There is now an answer for those with tummies that are slow in digesting foods. They should try it.

  27. Jim C

    I have made this numerous times and thoroughly enjoy it! Mine has a tendency to form ice crystals. Normal?

    My daughter is lactose intolerant. Can I substitute an equal amount of water to make a regular limoncello for her?

    Yes, while alcohol doesn’t freeze the milk will. Just leave it out for a few minutes to thaw. As for the water I would say no. Regular lemoncello would just be straight liquor. However, almond or soy milk could work, though I have never tried it myself. ~Garrett

  28. Anna H.

    Last week I found myself with way more lemons than I can usually use (couldn’t help it, they were such a good deal!); the zest went toward this recipe, the juice toward lemon curd.

    Best. Week. Ever.

    I’d never had limoncello, crema di or otherwise, and am not much of a hard alcohol drinker–the only bottle I’ve ever bought was whiskey for homemade Irish cream a few Christmases ago. This recipe was definitely a winning way to break into both new experiences. My lemons were on the smaller side and there were losses from zest getting stuck in my box grater, so I threw in an extra. And I reduced the sugar by maybe 1/3 because my boyfriend was helping and made horrified noises when I went to pour the full 2-lb bag of sugar into the milk. Oh well. I think it turned out beautifully even with the reduced sugar, but next time (in about 75 years, once I’ve finished this batch) I’ll try the recipe with the full amount, just to see.

  29. Teresa

    I’ve made this twice since last July and have given it as gifts. It is so refreshing and not something one normally is served. I make it 12 bottles at a time and always run out. Thank you for sharing the recipe.

  30. Patsy

    Does anyone have any ideas for using this in desert recipes please ?

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