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

Showing 4 of 36 Comments

  • 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

  • Ali

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

  • 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

  • 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

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