Cookies from Southern Italy
Mar 222010

What do you do when life gives you lemons? I make limoncello with the Meyer lemons from my tree.

Meyer lemon tree

Last week I made a batch of limoncello and crema di limoncello, which I learned to make from my cousins. In Calabria people make all types of liqueurs, infusing grain alcohol with different fruit, herbs, flowers, even hot peppers. (The most unusual liqueur I have ever tasted in Calabria was at Villa San Domenico in Morano Calabro where the owner had infused the alcohol with porcini mushrooms.) It is a custom to offer a bicchierino (little glass) of liqueur when someone comes by to visit. Most waiters in Calabria won’t leave you alone until you have a little glass of limoncello or other infused liqueur after dinner.

Limoncello is very easy to make: you just need some lemons that haven’t been  sprayed or waxed, a bottle of Everclear and some sugar. Crema di limoncello, the recipe for which I give you below, has one extra ingredient: milk.

Meyer lemons and EverClear

Wash your lemons and remove the peel with a very sharp peeler or knife, being careful to remove only the yellow part of the lemon.  You don’t want any of the white pith–this will make the limoncello bitter.

Lemon peels with no white pith

Place the peels with the alcohol in a  jar with a hermetic seal.  I use this jar that is large enough to hold the peels and the alcohol, and has a tight seal.  Leave the peels in the alcohol for a week.

Lemons peels with alcohol inside jar

After a week, strain the alcohol and add the cooled sugar syrup, made with either water for plain limoncello, or milk for crema di limoncello.  That is all there is to it. Leave it alone for a week and then enjoy a little glass as an after-dinner drink.

Crema di limoncello and limoncelloCrema di Limoncello (left) and Limoncello (right)

Crema di Limoncello


(Creamy lemon liqueur)


Peeled zest of eight lemons

1 bottle of grain alcohol (750ml)  (Everclear 151 Proof)

6 cups of whole milk

4 cups of granulated sugar

1. Remove the peel of the lemons taking care to peel only the yellow part and none of the white.  If any white pith is left on the peel it will make the limoncello bitter.

2. Pour the alcohol in a bottling jar that will hold at least three quarts and add the lemon peels.  Close the jar with a tight fitting lid and leave to infuse for one week in a dark cool place.

3. After this time, place the milk and sugar in a pot over a low flame and heat until the sugar is dissolved.  When the sugar is dissolved, remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Make sure that the sugar mixture is completely cooled.  For making regular limoncello this is very important; if the sugar syrup is still a little bit hot the limoncello will turn out cloudy instead of clear. Remove the lemon peels from the alcohol and then add the cold milk syrup to the jar and mix well.

4. Pour the crema di limoncello through a fine sieve lined with clean cheese cloth and decant it into bottles.  Close the bottle with a cork or lid. Leave to rest for at least a week in the freezer before using it.

Crema di Limoncello is always served cold.  I keep it in the freezer once opened.

Limoncello Variation: If you wish to make limoncello, just replace the milk with water.  Boil the water and sugar and let it cool.  Follow the rest of the recipe.  Keep refrigerated or in the freezer once made.

Makes 3 quarts.

Copyright 2005, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

  48 Responses to “Crema di Limoncello”


    Hello! I am going to try making the Limoncello this weekend. Do you know if using vodka instead of Everclear makes any difference in taste & outcome?

    It is very exciting to see how beautifully the cookbook is coming along.
    Karen T.



    I have never made it with Vodka but I know that a lot of people here use Vodka instead of Everclear. I know that in Italy it is not made with Vodka, they all use grain alcohol, with even a higher alcohol content than Everclear. The higher the alcohol content the more flavor you extract from the lemons, you could try and see if you can find 100 proof Vodka and adjust the amount of sugar and water.


    Dear Rosetta,

    I can’t wait to review your new cookbook. Where does one find Everclear grain alcohol? I enjoyed limoncello on my many visits to Italy, but could never obtain grain alcohol in New York City (where I think it is illegal for some odd reason). I now live in Portland, so perhaps it is easier to find it here.




    I buy it at BevMore store in California. Maybe your local liquor store might be able to get it for you. If you can’t find Everclear, you could try with Vodka as a lot of people do but you will need 100 proofs Vodka and then you need to adjust the amount of sugar / water.


    We purchased a bottle of crema di limone when we were last in Italy (more than a year ago). The bottle is still sealed, but it has not been refrigerated. The liquid appears to have turned a tan color. Is it still safe to drink?


    hi Rosetta,
    Have you heard of lemon juice been added to the Limoncello
    as well as the lemon peel?


    I am not aware of adding lemon juice in addition to lemon peel.


    This recipe is simple and perfect – thank you for sharing. I was thinking about trying this with fresh blackberries. Have you had any experience with using other fruit?



    I know that they make crema liquors in Calabria with other fruits, like mandarin, oranges, citron, melon, strawberries, and many others. I have never made a crema liquor with other fruits other than citrus fruits (I have made liquors with various fruits but without the milk). Give it a try and see what comes out.



    ciao Rosetta,
    ho saputo di te tramite un amico di Scalea, vicino Verbicaro ti ricordi? lui vive ormai in Nord America, anch’io sono di Scalea ma vivo nella Rep. Dominicana. Ho iniziato la mia attivita tre anni fa e poi l ho sospesa ora ho iniziato di nuovo ma mi sentivo un po come una pazza a portare le nostre ricette calabresi in centro America… fusilli, lagane, rascatielli… poi questo amico mi ha parlato di te e sono entrata nella tua pagina! ufff meno male, mi ha aiutato a capire che sono sulla giusta strada, ti ringrazio!! e sopratutto auguri è una pagina bellissima!


    Hello Rosseta

    Every time I come to visit my Italians friend, he always gives me De creme limoncello, so I start like the drink. Few weeks ago He made for the first time. He got the recepty from his mother. The taste was great. I want try to make too.Thanks


    Dear Rosetta,
    After spending an entire day searching for a Crema di Limoncello recipe that wasn’t intimidating, I chose yours. Thank You for sharing! Having issues with sugar I took a chance and replaced it with Splenda (fingers crossed of course) and replaced the milk with half & half and a can of evaporated milk. I was concerned about the thickness resulting from not using the sugar. Turned out wonderful and I am now starting my 3rd batch…yes, obsessed! Now the search for some unique bottles.
    Also, what is your opinion on the need to keep in the freezer? With this much alcohol content is freezing required to store my “back-stock”?


    I have always kept in the freezer because of the milk so I haven’t tried it keeping it in the pantry. Maybe if someone knows if it is OK because of the alcohol to keep it outside of the freezer they will share it here and let us know.


    i live in australia, sydney. It is illegal to get alcohol. Someone told me to use the spirit we use for wounds, is that right? please clarify it as I am very confused about it. Many thanks



    You need grain alcohol to make infused liquors. You can’t use rubbing alcohol. Can you buy vodka? You can use vodka if you can’t buy a high proof grain alcohol.


    Dear Roseta:
    How can I know the Limoncello history



    Here is a website that tells you about the history of Limoncello. Use Google translator to translate in English if you can’t read Italian.


    Ciao Roseta,
    I have been making Limoncello for years with Licor de Cana,or also called Canita,from Mexico.Its almost 100 pure sugar cane alcohol.What do you think.


    I am not familiar with Canita. I have only made Limoncello with Ever Clear. If it is pure alcohol I am sure it will work, you will need to adjust the recipe to compensate for the higher alcohol content.


    Hello Rosetta:

    Thank you so much for this recipe. My daughter was in Italy two years ago and brought me Crema di Limone – I believe the brand is Il Faro. I have savored it and shared it sparingly – I just finished the last of it. It has been in the refrigerator sinc opening it and is still as yummy as two years ago!

    My question for you – I would like to make this wonderful recipe and then share with friends as Christmas gifts. Because I don’t have the ability to seal the bottles like a distillary would be able to, once bottled and refrigerated, what time do you think is safe for it to be unrefrigerated?

    Regarding the woman looking for unique bottles, JoAnn Fabrice (weird I know) has beautful bottles as well as Hobby Lobby! Hope that helps!

    Thanks again,


    Dear Rosetta,

    I have made limoncello with Ever Clear here at home, unfortunately it gives me an awful headache the next day. However, I just arrived home from a 3 week visit to Italy, and the limoncello there does not cause a similar headache. One restauranter there instructed us that the best limoncellos have an alcohol percentage of 20-25. I was wondering if you might know how I could achieve such a low percentage of alcohol when using such strong Ever Clear. Thank you.


    Everclear isn’t legal in all states. The everclear I bought was 190 proof/95% alcohol. Some states only allow 151 proof spirits to be sold legally, and I believe Everclear makes one in this strength.


    South Carolina sells it! I added honey to my simple sugar and milk, sweetens it up and takes the alcoholly bite out..MUST BE SERVED ICE COLD and sipped only. My daddy says you have to drink them like breasts…One is not enough but THREE IS TOO MANY…Always stop at two, That is perfect!


    This receipe is wonderful. Creme di lemoncello tastes great. My question is, “how long will it last in the freezer before the Milk goes bad? It won’t last that long, but I’m curious.


    My first batch (made with everclear and simple syrup was very clear
    the second batch is cloudy
    Is therer any way to clear it up?


    Was your simple syrup completely cold when you added it to the Everclear solution? This is the only thing that I know of that can give you a cloudy limoncello. I am not sure what else could have caused it if your simple syrup was cold. I don’t know how to clear it up. You can still drink it, it just doesn’t look as nice as a clear limoncello.



    Do you know if I can make the Melon cello the same way? do you have a receipe for that?



    I have never made the Melon cello but I was told in Calabria that you can use the same recipe as limoncello. Cut a small melon (remove the peel) in pieces and macerate it for two weeks with the grain alcohol, then make a simple syrup and cool it. Filter the melon liquor and add it to the simple syrup. Should be ready to drink in a month.
    Let me know if it works.


    NewYork now allows sale of high proof grain alcohol. I used 192 proof grain neutral called ‘Spirytus’, about 10 bucks a litre, with Grapefruit to great success.


    Just made up my lot of creamy lemon but it has what looks like small curdles in it, its lovely to taste but not sure why its not creamy would the type of milk have something to do with it or maybe the mix was not cold enough when added the lemon/vodka mix ( cant get plain grain in NZ)


    Ever Clear is not sold in many places and I understand that in some states it’s illegal because of the high percentage of alcohol. So I never tried to find it but have used 100 proof vodka (Smirnoff makes some) and we love it. I think I prefer it to Ever Clear which I find to be extremely harsh; the 100 proof vodka is strong enough to pull lots of flavor from the lemon peels.


    I live in a shit hole country called Australia. Everything is illegal here including grain alcohol. Of course you can buy limoncello if you pay the government price roughly $35 for a 750ml bottle. And that’s a cheap one.


    how long will a store bought unopened never chilled bottle of Creme di Limone purchased in italy last




    I have been making limoncello from my Meyer lemon for quite awhile. To answer several questions here, I never use Everclear cuz I can’t find it. I use Vodka that has been distilled 6 times. Cupcake makes one but the best vodka is Boomerang from Australia. It is made from grapes! I let my mixture diffuse for 1 month total and it is absolutely the best limoncello I have ever tasted.


    Hey Bob,
    A better question might be, how long can you leave it on the shelf. I have kept some on the shelf for 6 months then couldn’t resist the temptation! Just think, how long will an unopened bottle of Baileys keep?
    I have now resorted to making my own Crema di Limoncello thanks to Rosetta’s recipe…with a few adjustments such as replacing the sugar with Splenda. I always have a double batch of zest and Ever Clear “fermenting” in the pantry. Such an obsession has also led me to making this from limes as well…which many friends like better. Adding a touch of green food color and a dash of vanilla gives it a KEY LIME PIE flavor.
    I just finished my last double batch of Limon this past weekend. Let’s see..that makes six bottles of Limon and three of Lime in the freezer! YUM!


    Rosetta this was unbelievably easy to make and it already tastes AMAZING. I will behave and store it in the fridge. It made 4 bottles. I did two with water and two with milk. Thank you so much for this


    Enjoy it! It makes a great gift also for the holidays (if you have any leftover).


    Just made batch #2. Rosetta, I will make this at Christmas. I’ve been to a wine bottle store and bought half wine bottles with corks to give this away. I LOVE the creamy Limoncello. Giving some away tomorrow and taking it on a trip. I also have a recipe for Irish cream that is to die for. Let me know/ e mail me if you want it. Soooo good too.


    PS, Rosetta, my Mom’s family also came from Reggio Calabria, Gioso Ionnica was the city where they lived. Nana’s maiden name was Prestia and Nono’s last name was Linarello. I’ve got to buy your book on the cooking of Calabria. Just found that. So wonderful that you take pride in our heritage! Ciao!


    I have been making regular lemoncello for years but never made the cream. I used your recipe for cream lemoncello but when I poured the the milk and sugar mixture into the alcohol the milk curded. I can’t figure out what I did wrong. Can you help?


    Sam, It has never happened to me so I am wondering if your milk/sugar solution was still warm when you poured it into the alcohol mixture. Make sure the milk/sugar is completely cold before adding it.


    I recently made crème limoncello using a different recipe than yours and it tastes fine but isn’t thick. Does your recipe make a thick syrupy drink? I used vodka but am going to try your recipe with everclear.


    I love the color of the limoncello crema that you see in liquor stores….how do they get that beautiful shade of yellow instead of the milky white? Thank you. Ciao!


    My recipe uses Everclear and the final result is like the crema di limoncello that is sold in Italy. It is thicker than milk, more like cream.



    The shade comes from extracting the color from the lemon peels so it will vary depending on your lemons and if you use Everclear vs Vodka. Take a look at the picture on my blog and you can see what mine looks like. Check the bottle of the limoncello crema you are looking at, as some of them will add food coloring.


    When I was in Italy last year, I bought some melon cream liquer and am wondering if I could make this out of cantaloupe instead of using the limoncello, which I have already made. Does the cream de melon have to be refrigerated since it has milk in it?



    Yes you can make it using cantaloupe (that is how it is made in Southern Italy) instead of lemon peels. You will need to keep it in the freezer just like the crema di limoncello since it has milk.

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