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Capri, Sorrento, and Amalfi have agreed to disagree on the birthplace of Limoncello. Its unique, inimitable flavor has become one of Italy’s biggest culinary traditions in the world, with the global market for limoncello continuously expanding.
From the sunny walks along the beach to the colorful citrus orchards of Capri and Amalfi to the cosmopolitan seaside and rich historical city center of Sorrento, you may not notice the tension between them. These places passionately contend for the paternity of limoncello, all boasting of their individual histories of limoncello production dating back generations.
Limoncello was perhaps born in the early 1900’s when Lady Maria Antonia Farace grew lemons and oranges to produce this liquor to serve her guests at her small boarding house in Capri. Her “nipote” opened a bar after World War II that specialized in his nonna’s old limoncello recipe.
In 1988, his son Massimo Canale opened a small handmade production of limoncello, patenting the very first trademark “Limoncello”. Thus, Capresi believe the paternity to be rightfully theirs.
Still, Sorrento and Amalfi have age-old legends and tales about this citrusy liqueur. In Sorrento, there are many stories about important families during the early 1900’s who would offer traditional limoncello to their distinguished guests.
Many in Amalfi believe that the liqueur is linked to their well-known lemon cultivation, declaring their tradition of limoncello to be as old as their cultivation of lemons.
There is no shortage of intriguing hypotheses about the origin of limoncello. Luckily, we can all agree that this traditional liqueur has made a significant global impact, having travelled across the continents to far markets for decades.
Sorrentini, Capresi, and Amalfitani can also agree that true limoncello must be prepared with Sorrento lemons. The peels of these lemons are rich with essential oils and boast a very decisive aroma and unique taste that defines limoncello. They never contain additives or coloring in order to maintain the purity.
Sorrento lemons must be cultivated in the territory between Vico Equense, Massa Lubrense and Capri.
These precious lemons are harvested by hand to protect the lemons from directly contacting the ground. The harvest occurs from February to October, when the weather is warmer and more conducive to lemon growth.
Then comes the 80-day manufacturing process. Once the highest quality lemons are selected, they are cleaned with hot water and brushed. The rinds are extracted and immersed in alcohol, where they rest at room temperature before being placed in the freezer. Once these lemons are macerated, the limoncello is ready to be served.
Limoncello is a delightful digestive when served cold. Some prefer it at room temperature, mixed with tonic water or champagne. It is the perfect pairing with gelato and other sweets and desserts.
While visiting Capri, Sorrento, and Amalfi won’t help you determine the true birthplace of limoncello, you can at least try the three different versions to discover the subtle tastes and nuances that distinguish one version from another.
Limoncello is incredibly delicious, agreed.