Crema di Limoncello

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Homemade limoncello! Favorite Italian digestif, rich as custard and strong enough to knock you down. Everclear infused with plenty of lemon zest then swirled together with milk, sugar, and vanilla.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

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

  • Prep time: 7 days
  • Cook time: 1 hour
  • Yield: Makes a little more than 3 quarts

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

1 Infuse Everclear with lemon zest for one week: 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 Make limoncello base: 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 limoncello base with zest infused Everclear, strain and bottle: 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

Garrett McCord

Garrett McCord is a professional writer and recipe developer whose work has appeared in many print and online publications such as Gourmet Live, Saveur, Huffington Post, Smithsonian, and NPR. Past clients also include numerous food companies, wineries, and distilleries. Garrett writes about cocktails on his website, Coupe de Grace.

More from Garrett

64 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Jeremy

    If you use vanilla extract in place of the vanilla bean, do you still need to heat the milk/sugar combination? Or, can you simply mix/stir everything at room temperature?

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  2. Andrew

    Can I get the same effect by using sweetened condensed milk? And what about vanilla extract, is there a difference?

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  3. Dylan

    Can’t wait to finish off this recipe this Tuesday. Just one question. The milk doesnt spoil once it is mixed with everclear right? Thanks!

    Show Replies (1)
  4. Gregg

    How well does this store? I want to try it but won’t be able to get away with even a half recipe.

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  5. Stephanie Rumori

    Just made this and it came out DIVINE!!! Thank you!!

    xxxxxyyyyy

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