Making Limoncello

Originally published on April 2012 and at (now, KarenChronister©2012.

The gloaming time at Spannocchia brings easy laughter and Limoncello, a homemade Italian lemon liqueur that delights all but the teetotalers on the multi-national guest list. Spannocchia is a diamond of a place to stay, half-buried in the Tuscan landscape just outside of Siena, Italy, where they serve fresh pasta and their own farm-raised organic pork products, including the best prosciutto I’ve ever tasted.

This 12th Century tenuta, a “working farm” with connections to America through The Spannocchia Foundation, includes a large, rambling main villa with a Medieval castle tower, chapel, traditional rustic guest rooms, several outlying farmhouses, an organic farm and teaching center, wine- making room, communal meals under a grape arbor-shaded stone patio, and, of course, in cooking lessons in the authentic Tuscan tradition.

Did I say “perfect” yet? Perfect. And, they produce their own luscious organic olive oil. But, back to Limoncello.

Living, even briefly, in a place like Spannocchia leaves behind a persisting ache. Like some kind of phantom limb that itches every now and then, and your arm isn’t long enough to scratch it. The locale–its rustic elegance and contented quiet–got under my skin, and in the middle of a meeting or stressful day or a Herculean effort to find time to write, I miss it. So does my writing buddy, Anna, who joined me last summer along with a slew of other writers at the Spalding MFA in Writing Italian international residency. For eight days, we walked the dirt paths in search of pigs, gathered to sip wine on the soft grass terrace, marveled at the antiquity and steadfastness of the structures, and contemplated the landscape and presence of “now.” This paradise was replete with Limoncello, wine, pork, and homemade pasta. With this constant combination in our bellies, we shed our “other,” more taciturn, selves to discuss the advantages of a commune and the artistry of Fellini films.

How better to say “I wish we could go time traveling too, my friend!” than to make a batch of Spannochia’s Limoncello from their recipe book I’d toted home? No one would think of that Christmas present for my dear Anna.

The beauty of this sweet sip of nostalgia is that the recipe and process are very simple. Other than the suggestion of a very smooth vodka called Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and the conversion to U.S. measurements, this recipe is intact. A true snapshot of the Spannocchia experience. I have taken it to a few Christmas parties and found it a hit with anyone who has left a piece of their heart behind in Italy.


1 liter vodka (Tito’s Handmade Vodka is the BEST) 8 organic lemons
4 cups water
2 1/2 cups white sugar

Wash lemons. Zest only the yellow part of the lemons as the white rind is bitter. In a clean, dry glass container combine all of the lemon zest and Tito’s Handmade Vodka for EIGHT DAYS. Filter the vodka with a very fine colander to catch all of the zest; it will be a lovely clear yellow color.

Simple Syrup: Boil water and sugar until completely melted. Cool completely. Stir in lemon-infused alcohol. Separate into decorative containers to give as gifts, if desired. KEEP REFRIGERATED and drink cold in a limoncello glass. Dilute for a less strong alcohol flavor.

By the way, Anna squealed. Now what will I think of next year?