Uncovering Italy’s Superlatives in people, places and things

Limoncello Uncorked

Bottling up Amalfi

Limoncello, the intensely-flavoured liqueur is a beloved aperitivo or digestivo, that  is practically synonymous with Amalfi.  Enjoyed before or after many a lunch and dinner and often made by mamma (or la nonna!), each family has their own coveted artisanal recipe and each restaurant inevitably peddles their own variation. Traditionally, it is served well-chilled and neat in an ice-cold cordial glass. Take note however, the homemade artisanal version of Limoncello is not to be confused with the mass-produced imitations that have made the famous citrus concoction a booming commercial business worldwide. Traditional farming methods and fruit varieties ensure that the true and authentic Limoncello stands apart from its industrial cousins.

A sun-kissed elixir

Sfusato Amalfitano, the oversized sun-kissed citrus beauty is the shining star of this sweet yet tangy, acidic liqueur whose origins weaves a mythical tale, much like the craggily coastline. Produced with fervent passion in various parts of Italy, there is much debate about the exact origins of the elixir.

Limoncello aficionados love to travel back to antiquity, and cite the creation of the delicious liquore to just after the cultivation of the lemon. Others get medieval, noting literary commentary when limoncello was known as Rosolino al Limoni, a morning tonic for fishermen and farmers to combat the cold. Some claim that friars in monastic convents created limoncello as post-prayer treat, while others trace the history of the drink to the great families of the Amalfi town of Sorrento, who at the beginning of the early 1900s, offered tastes of the homemade liqueur to their illustrious guests.

The island of Capri has its own turn-of-the-century claim where a now-famous nonna, Signora Maria Antonia Farace, tended to lush lemon and orange groves in her garden in Anacapri. Owner of the Mariantonia guesthouse, Nonna Maria Antonia would serve the limonillo (Capri dialect for the liqueur). Following the Great War, her grandson continued the tradition when he opened a restaurant and bar, serving the homemade liqueur using his grandmother’s personal recipe. Fast-forward nearly a century to1988 when Massimo Canale, Maria Antonia’s great grandson, registered the recipe and a small artisanal production and business, Limoncello di Capri S.r.l.

We may never know the exact history of Limoncello but thanks to its Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) denomination, the real deal lemon potion is now firmly protected. It must be made using the original Sorrento lemon varieties which are grown in the areas from Vico Equense to Massa Lubrense and on the island of Capri and void of any preservatives, dyes, flavours and stabilisers. And though each family recipe remains very hush-hush, the process couldn’t be simpler:  peel, infuse, sweeten then chill.  But everyone has their own secret. 

Try a recipe for ISSIMO’s own Nonna Marosa.

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