Limoncello is the golden treasure of Amalfi. Locals affectionately
call it sunshine wine, as if they had harvested all the joy and
golden glory of the coastline, corked it, before serving it, chilled,
like summer champagne.
A national drink of Italy, limoncello is served
either before a meal to cleanse the palate, or as a light and refreshing
after-dinner beverage. It is made from fermented lemons, which are
steeped in a mixture of sugar and alcohol for at least 20 days.
Connoisseurs agree that the best limoncello comes
from the Amalfi Coast. The region’s unique soil leads to the
finest quality lemons, which are sweet and citrusy, with nary a
trace of sourness. Some chefs even call the Amalfi lemons “bread”,
because they can be cut into slices and then eaten as a dessert
or a snack: tart, juicy, and as goldeny sweet as the sunshine spilling
over the beaches outside.
The lemons of the Amalfi coast also have very
few seeds, minimising the bitterness, while the pulp is so rich
with flavour that you can smell the sweetness through its skin.
Try driving by Amalfi’s terraced lemon groves during the summer,
when the branches are heavy with their fruit. The heady mix of their
citrus perfumes, tinted by the scent of the turquoise sea, will
linger in your memory for years.
According to legend, limoncello owes its origins
to the rosoli drinks made in the convents, where nuns would make
delicate liqueurs from fruits, spices and aromatic plants. The earliest
records of limoncello can be traced to the 17th century, when people
began talking about a particularly delectable pastry dish made by
the nuns of the Santa Rosa convent in Conca dei Marini. Their secret
ingredient was a lemon liqueur, beginning a long (and now world
wide) love affair with limoncello.
Today, you can find limoncello in the beverage
list of almost every Italian restaurant. Commercially-produced variants
have also flooded the markets.
However, you will find that everything pales in comparison to the
limoncello made with Amalfi lemons, and indeed, the limoncelli made
and bottled within Amalfi itself.
When you walk the streets of this famous vacation
region, from the bustling tourist district to the small villages
dotting the coastline, you will see dozens of shops displaying beautifully
shaped bottles of their homemade limoncello. Many of them are homemade,
bottled and perfected in the kitchens of the Amalfi townsfolk, using
techniques and recipes that they have kept in their family for generations.
You must buy one; it is your only chance to savour Amalfi’s
golden treasure in its purest and most authentic form.
Also be sure to order limoncello during your meals in Amalfi. The
drink is traditionally served cold, sometimes on its own in a delicate
aperitif glass, or mixed with champagne or juice as a cocktail.
Limoncello is also used as an ingredient for desserts. Some restaurants
will drizzle it on ice cream, or a bowl of fresh fruit. The way
its refreshingly cold sweetness explodes on the taste buds is the
culinary equivalent of plunging into Amalfi’s seas.
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