How to Make Limoncello | The Mediterranean Dish (2024)

Learning how to make limoncello is easy with this three ingredient homemade limoncello recipe. It’s delicious in a cocktail or ice cold on its own! This sunny, bright lemon liqueur also makes a lovely gift.

How to Make Limoncello | The Mediterranean Dish (1)

Italy, especially on the Amalfi coast, is known for its fragrant Sorrento lemons. These little, or not so little, bursts of sunshine can be found on ceramics, painted on frescoes, and are the base for the celebrated liqueur limoncello.

Making limoncello at home is easier than you think and it only requires a little time and 3 ingredients — lemon peel, high proof clear alcohol and sugar. (Water too, but we don’t count that.) That’s it!

Once you’ve learned how to make limoncello you’ll serve this wonderfully refreshing drink in many ways for your favorite occasions. It's best to store limoncello in the freezer so it's ice cold and ready to serve.

Drink it on it's own, mix it with wine or sparkling water for a limoncello cocktail. Or, make a big festive pitcher of Limoncello Spritzes for easy entertaining. Try it with fish like this Greek-Style Roasted Branzino or set it out with different mixers at your next cocktail party with finger foods like these Cucumber Sandwiches and a big pitcher of Red Sangria.

Table of Contents
  1. Limoncello: The Backstory
  2. What’s in this Limoncello?
  3. What’s the Best Liquor for Making Homemade Limoncello?
  4. The Best Lemons for Limoncello
  5. How to Make Limoncello
  6. How to Drink Limoncello
  7. More Refreshing Drink Recipes
  8. The Mediterranean Dish Cookbook
  9. Limoncello Recipe Recipe
How to Make Limoncello | The Mediterranean Dish (2)

Limoncello: The Backstory

Italy has many traditions that span centuries, but Limoncello as a commercial product is actually a modern invention.

The brand was trademarked less than 40 years ago in the late 1980’s by the Canale family. But prior to that trademark, you can discover stories of the liqueur’s manufacture by the hands of nuns, monks, innkeepers, and various other Italians over hundreds of years.

It’s likely that many people were taking lemons and infusing them in some kind of liquor as a way of preserving the fruit, and those limoncello recipes were passed down through generations.

So while this recipe may differ from what your Italian relatives might make in their kitchen, this gives you a foolproof way to make and bottle your own limoncello recipe — and perhaps pass it down to the next generation.

A true limoncello, as it has been given the Protected Geographical Indication (Indicazione Geografica Protetta/IGP), must be made from untreated (no pesticides) Sorrento lemons. But if a trip to the Amalfi coast is not in your near future, you can make your own limoncello at home with grocery store lemons!

How to Make Limoncello | The Mediterranean Dish (3)

What’s in this Limoncello?

You’ve gotta love a recipe with a short ingredient list! Limoncello consists of lemon peels or zest, high proof grain alcohol like vodka or everclear, sugar and water.

What’s the Best Liquor for Making Homemade Limoncello?

When making homemade infusions like limoncello it’s best to use a high proof grain alcohol. Why the high proof?

One reason is that the higher proof actually extracts more flavors from the ingredients you are using. Another is that to keep the Limoncello potent, you start with a higher proof alcohol since you will eventually be cutting it with sugar and water, which will bring down the overall proof of the drink.

My top choices are:

  • Everclear 190 or 151
  • Stoli 100 proof
  • Absolut 100 proof

The Best Lemons for Limoncello

As with any recipe with a short ingredient list the quality of the ingredients matter the most. This limoncello recipe uses only the outer peel (yellow skin only not the white pith) of the lemon so it’s best to use organic lemons that haven’t been treated with pesticides. The white pith is bitter and will impart a bitter taste to the final product so its best to use just the outer skin.

  • When buying lemons from the grocery store scrub them well under warm water to remove any food-grade wax. If you have a lemon tree (lucky you!) just rinse them to remove any dirt or debris.
  • A Eureka lemon has a nice thick skin that is easy to peel or zest without taking too much of the white pith with it
  • Meyer lemons are a great choice due to their highly aromatic nature, which comes from the oils in the skin and will infuse into the alcohol during their infusion. The skins of Meyer lemons are very thin, however, and can be cumbersome to peel.
  • Use either a fine zest or long peel of skin in your infusion. I prefer a microplane to create a fine zest, but really it's up to you. It will all be strained out in the next step.

How to Make Limoncello

Making infusions like homemade limoncello are relatively easy, as you just combine the ingredients in a jar and let them rest.A recipe really doesn't get much easier than that.

  • Combine the lemon zest or peels and alcohol in a sealed glass jar. Store it out of direct sunlight (I keep mine next to my coffee) and give the contents a gentle shake every few days. Taste every couple of days until you have a bright, tangy lemon flavor that shines through and prevails over the taste of the alcohol. This can take up to 3 weeks.

    How to Make Limoncello | The Mediterranean Dish (4)

  • When you’ve tasted your infusion and are happy with it, it’s time to strain. Use a very fine mesh strainer and double up with the cheesecloth. You don’t want any debris from the lemons in your final mixture. (I love using a nut milk bag for this if you have one laying around.)
  • Transfer the mixture into a decorative bottle large enough to hold the infused mixture and the simple syrup. Don’t try and re-strain into the bottle your alcohol came in! You won’t have enough space to add in the simple syrup.
  • Make the simple syrup (sugar and water mixture). Let it cool then add it to the lemon infused alcohol.
  • After you’ve combined your infused liquor with a sugar syrup, tradition says to keep it in the freezer (where it will keep at least a year or more).
How to Make Limoncello | The Mediterranean Dish (5)

How to Drink Limoncello

Limoncello is best served ice cold in small chilled glasses. Because it’s made using high proof liquor you can store it in the freezer and it won’t freeze solid.

  • Pour as a digestif (drunk after the meal) or anytime you fancy a refreshing, sweet-tart drink.
  • Make a limoncello cocktail! Adding an ounce of limoncello to a flute of sparkling wine for a simple festive drink. Or just mix it with sparkling water in a rocks glass.
  • Use it to make Limoncello cake, or fold some into heavy whipping cream for Limoncello whipped cream, or even add it to a marinade for seafood.
  • Pour some into a decorative bottle with a label and you’ve got a wonderful handmade hostess gift. You could even attach a pour spout from the shop.

More Refreshing Drink Recipes

  • Red Sangria
  • Carajillo Recipe (Spiked Coffee)
  • Ouzo Drink with Lemon and Mint
  • Easy Aperol Spritz Recipe

Browse allMediterranean recipes.

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The Mediterranean Dish Cookbook

The Mediterranean Dish Cookbook: 120 Bold and Healthy Recipes You'll Make on Repeat.In her book, Suzybrings cross-culturally inspired dishes from throughout the Mediterranean to you, using easy-to-find ingredients and easy-to-follow, to make your meals more vibrant, delicious, and yes — even a little healthier, too!

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How to Make Limoncello | The Mediterranean Dish (10)

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Limoncello Recipe

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How to Make Limoncello | The Mediterranean Dish (11)Elana Lepkowski

How to Make Limoncello | The Mediterranean Dish (12)

Three ingredients is all you need to make this classic citrusy liqueur right at home! There are so many ways to serve this refreshing drink. Try it on its own in small glasses, or mix with wine for a limoncello cocktail.

Prep – 20 minutes mins

Cook – 10 minutes mins

Infusing Time 14 days d



Serves – 18




  • Vegetable peeler or microplane zester

  • Fine strainer, cheesecloth, or strainer bag

  • Funnel

  • Swing top bottles


  • 2 pounds (about 8 or 9) organic lemons scrubbed
  • 1 (750ml) bottle Everclear, or high-proof vodka such as Stoli 100
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water


  • Zest or peel the lemons: You don’t want any of the white pith. To remove only the yellow skin use a microplane zester to zest the lemon skin or a vegetable peeler to remove only the yellow part. Save the peeled lemons to make lemonade later!

  • Combine the lemon peel and the liquor: Combine the lemon peels and high-proof liquor into a glass jar. Seal it and store it out of direct sunlight.

  • Swirl and wait: Swirl the mixture gently every few days for two weeks (see headnotes to check for when it is ready).

  • Strain: When ready, layer cheesecloth over a fine mesh strainer (or use a strainer bag) and pour the liquid with the lemon zest/peels over the top. Press down on the solids a little bit, then discard them and set liquid aside.

  • Make the simple syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Let the simple syrup cool to room temperature, and then mix into the strained liquid.

  • Transfer and store: Using a funnel, pour the Limoncello into swing top bottles. Seal and transfer to the freezer.

  • Serve! To enjoy, pour about 1-½ to 2 ounces straight from the freezer into a chilled glass.


  • The length of time needed to make the Limoncello can vary depending on the oil content of your lemons, as well as the proof of your liquor.
  • Unless you are pretty familiar with your lemon variety, this means that you have to be a detective and taste-test every few days after a week has passed. I find that two weeks works well using Everclear and my Eureka lemons.
  • A lower proof vodka will mean that you may need an additional week or more to reach maximum lemon flavor.
  • Don’t worry about how much time your bottle is sitting out infusing, the high proof liquor will prevent mold from growing. However, should you see any signs of discoloration or something fuzzy growing, discard, sanitize your bottles, and start over.
  • A nut milk bag, or “strainer bag” is a first rate, one piece tool to use for straining fine particles. They’re great to have around: I use mine for these types of infusions, but also for straining my almond milk, chicken stock—you name it.
  • ​​Visit our shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including olive oils, spices, and more.


Serving: 41gCalories: 155kcalCarbohydrates: 15.8gProtein: 0.6gFat: 0.2gSaturated Fat: 0.02gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.05gMonounsaturated Fat: 0.01gSodium: 2.2mgPotassium: 70.2mgFiber: 1.4gSugar: 12.3gVitamin A: 11.1IUVitamin C: 26.7mgCalcium: 13.6mgIron: 0.3mg

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Culinary Specialty: Mixology

Elana Lepkowski has been mixing drinks from her home bar for years, but began blogging her original cocktail recipes in 2011. In 2014 she left a decade long career as a creative director to pursue the world of cocktails full-time. In addition to creating recipes for her site Stir and Strain, she regularly whips up recipes for many major liquor brands, national publications, and occasionally her husband.
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How to Make Limoncello | The Mediterranean Dish (2024)


How long should I let my limoncello sit? ›

Place lemon in a large glass mason jar or other glass container than can be sealed airtight. Cover with everclear or vodka. Secure lid and place in a cool, dark location for at least 1 week and up to 4 weeks.

How do Italians serve limoncello? ›

The perfect glass is either short-stemmed or a shot glass, this helps to keep the drink cool. In some parts of Italy, it is served in a chilled ceramic cup. In all cases, an authentic Limoncello in Italy must be served chilled to enjoy the flavour.

What do Italians eat with limoncello? ›

Combine it with champagne or sparkling water for a refreshing summertime cooler, or experiment with cocktails when you're looking to add citrus flavor to a drink without a lot of acidity. Limoncello is a natural companion to many classic Italian desserts, such as panna cotta, tiramisu and ricotta pie.

Why do Italian restaurants give you limoncello? ›

Italians drink Limoncello after a meal. Lemons are known to help your digestive system. The acid in them bolsters your body's ability to absorb nutrients and process food. Having a drink after a meal will help to prevent wind and other gastric discomfort.

Can you steep limoncello too long? ›

If you want subtle Limoncello steep for 1–2 weeks, but if you're looking for a more intense flavor you should expect to wait up to a month. Forbes warns Limoncello makers that there is such a thing as over-steeping and it can ruin the liqueur altogether so keep a close eye on your booze.

Are you supposed to down limoncello? ›

In fact, most bottles are stored in the freezer so that when the liquid is served, it goes down more smoothly. Although limoncello is usually served in a shot glass or what some refer to as a “shooter”, the sweet drink is to be sipped, not taken as a shot.

How do you serve limoncello traditionally? ›

Limoncello is typically served plain without ice. Try adding ice to it if it tastes too warm or your glass warms up. You may enjoy serving limoncello as a shot rather than at a specific time. Don't be afraid to enjoy it however you like.

How is limoncello traditionally served? ›

Serving. Limoncello is traditionally served chilled as an after-dinner digestivo. Along the Sorrentine Peninsula and the Amalfi Coast, it is usually served in small ceramic glasses that are also chilled. This tradition has been carried into other parts of Italy.

What food goes well with limoncello? ›

Pair with Spuntini (Italian for “small bites”):
  • Bruschetta.
  • Caprese salad with tomatoes, fresh basil and mozzarella cheese.
  • Italian meats as mortadella, bresaola, prosciutto di Parma and salami.
  • Smoked salmon tartine or tartare.

What Italian town is famous for limoncello? ›

The Sorrento lemon, one of the best lemons in Italy, gets its name from the town of Sorrento, southern Italy. The whole Amalfi Coast is known for lemons and limoncello, but Sorrento in particular. Driving on the Amalfi Coast Road, you'll spot terraces of lemon groves climbing high up the steep cliffs.

Do Sicilians drink limoncello? ›

Closely associated with southern Italy, limoncello tends to invite a smile: Packed with the sunny flavor of local lemons it is considered a necessary finale to a meal in Sicily and is served very, very cold. Lemon zest is macerated in high-proof spirit to extract its oils, before being mixed with sugar syrup.

Do Italians drink limoncello straight? ›

Limoncello is traditionally served cold, either straight up or over ice. Its vibrant yellow hue makes it an attractive addition to any table setting and adds an extra touch of sophistication to gatherings and celebrations. This popular Italian beverage will surely bring joy to any occasion or meal!

What do Italians drink after dinner? ›

In Italy, that's a digestivo – literally something to help you digest after a heavy meal. The Italian digestif is not a cocktail but a 'short' drink with a mid-high alcohol content served in a small glass, often neat but sometimes with a little ice (or kept very cold in the fridge or freezer).

Is limoncello an aperitif or digestif? ›

Limoncello on its own is categorized as a digestif liqueur, meaning it's meant to be sipped on its own after a meal to aid in digestion. This is how limoncello is commonly used in Italy—after a meal, people stay at the table, either after dessert or during dessert, sharing limoncello and toasting to good health.

Is there a lot of alcohol in limoncello? ›

Limoncello is made by steeping lemon zest (peels) in highly concentrated ethanol or vodka until oil is released, then mixing the resulting yellow liquid with simple syrup. Its alcohol content varies — especially among homemade varieties — but is usually measured somewhere in the 25-30% range.

How do you know when limoncello is done? ›

Infuse for at least four days (in the case of Everclear 190/189) and up to six weeks (for the lower proof alcohols). The infusion is ready when the alcohol is bright yellow and the lemon peels have lost most of their color.

Should homemade limoncello be clear or cloudy? ›

In fact, limoncello is almost always cloudy! I know commercial limoncello is this beautiful light yellow and almost crystal clear liquid that we are all trying to aim for. However, homemade limoncello can look like a (dark yellow) orange juice.

How long to drink limoncello after opening? ›

Once opened, it's best to drink within six months for the best taste. Limoncello is a bright, sunny, and refreshing Italian liqueur that has been enjoyed for centuries as an after-dinner drink or digestif.

Does limoncello need to be airtight? ›

Limoncello should keep well for at least a month in the fridge, or many months if stored in the freezer. The most important thing to remember when bottling limoncello is that it must be stored in an airtight container.


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