It was a product prepared at home with the infusion of local fruits. Something has changed and within a few decades, in the '80s, the Limoncello liqueur has become known and loved abroad, too: it’s a fragrant yellow liquor characterized by a strong aroma, mainly tasted as a digestive, but also on sweets or fruit salads. Comparatively little is known about its history, crossed by many different legends and anecdotes. Someone states that it would boast thousand year old origins, and it is true that the great medical school of Salerno around the year 1000 distilled, when in the rest of Italy this practice was very rare.
Who knows if the Limoncello was really born at Capri, the magical island beloved by artists and emperors, or at the foot of the stairway leading to the cathedral of Amalfi, or if the true home of the ‘golden liqueur’ is the beautiful Sorrento, on the other side of Lattari mountains which contemplate the Gulf of Naples. These three places compete for the authorship of the drink, and it is easy to understand why: the Limoncello has now won the world. United States in the lead, where piles of lemons from California are peeled. But even in the Muslim Turkey, near Antalya, a few years ago a factory which produces raki, vodka, and the Limoncello was founded.
Of course, the real cultivation of lemon in the peninsula of Sorrento began around 1500 and had a decisive impulse thanks to the Jesuits in the seventeenth century, while the first trademark was registered only in 1988, when the ‘Limoncello di Capri’ was recorded in 1988 by the Canale Family of Capri. This family was very fond of the history of their lemon liqueur: the grandmother Vincenza prepared it at the beginning of the twentieth century for the guests of her hotel, to whom she offered her 'limonillo'.
It is easy to prepare this liqueur by oneself: you can leave the lemon peel to infuse in alcohol, and then dilute the whole with sugar syrup. Obviously, the most important thing is the lemon. Jokes are not allowed, it can only be of two types, both IGP and both characterized by peel rich in precious essential oils: the 'Gran Ovale’ of Sorrento', with elliptical shape, medium-large size, whose peel is rich in essential oils, very thick, wrinkled, and yellow citrine; or the equally prestigious 'Sfusato amalfitano', a lemon which owes its name to its elongated spindle-shaped morphology, and of course the name of the Amalfi coast.
Only the best lemons
The company 'Il Gusto della Costa’ processes and packages its products «only with the finest citruses, harvested at the right time in several plots of land on the Amalfi Coast and processed by using traditional methods which enhance their aroma and scent», as Valentino Esposito, the owner, says.
The Company's mission consists in transforming, in liqueurs and similar, the products which are born on the Amalfi Coast, in the municipality of Amalfi, at Finestre, in plots of land fully planted with lemon trees.
The species of lemon which is produced here is just the 'Sfusato Amalfitano', «a graft which has been acknowledged by the European Commission, thus becoming IGP, and it is called the 'Limone Costa d'Amalfi'», Esposito says. He also explains how «the cultivation of lemons is entirely organic, without using either chemical fertilizers or pesticides: organic fertilizers and copper sulphate only. The plants grow in width, building below them, with piles in chestnut tree, 'cages' whereon it is possible to lean the branches linked by strands in willow trees which during the winter are covered with green plastic breathing sheets, in order to protect them from wind and hail. Every two years they are hoed rigorously by hand, in order to foster the growth of new floating roots. During spring the safety nets are removed in order to foster flowering, which occurs in the months of April, May, and June (by forcing the plants during periods of drought and watering them, it is also possible to obtain flowering in July to collect the so called 'Verdelli' lemons in November). The lemons which are born in this period are collected the following year. The picking is always done by hand and the fruits, placed in chestnut baskets, about kg 60 each, are carried on the shoulders by men to the carriage roads».
From here, within two hours from picking, the processing of lemons begins, in order to prepare the Limoncello.
Liqueurs, jams, preserves, honey, and liqueur cream
All the products by Gusto della Costa, which boast the ICEA certification, are exported to Europe (England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Holland, Denmark, Sweden), USA, Canada, Japan, Singapore, Lebanon, and Australia, and soon to China.
The classic Limoncello, best if served cold, but not frozen, as recommended by Mr. Esposito, is produced by the infusion of lemon peels; the liquor of organic lemons is the flagship of the company; the liquor prepared with Tangerine, Fennel, Wild Strawberries is to be tasted preferably cold; the Tangerine one, if heated, is also recommended as a punch.
The 'Babà Positanesi with Limoncello Liqueur’ are a delicacy: the ‘Babà’, typical Sicilian sweets, preserved in pots with the Limoncello, can be served as desserts or in order to garnish ice cream or cakes.
There are also marmalades and jams prepared according to ancient recipes, cooking in open bowls the ripe fruits with sugar, without adding pectin: lemon, oranges, tangerines. Or the other jams as the ones prepared with onion, or ‘Pennata’ Pear, or ‘Annurca’ Apple, or Green Tomatoes.
The citrus honey obtained from hives placed in the citrus groves crystallizes naturally: it must be heated in a bain-marie, for the consumers who prefer it in a liquid state.
And then there are also the liqueur creams: prepared with lemon, or melon, or liquorice, usually served ice-cold, as a dessert, realized with cream and lemon, excellent as a digestif, too, different from the classic Limoncello, because they contain milk protein.