Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cello - Foundation Recipe

(pictured L-R: lemon, pink grapefruit, orange/vanilla, blood orange)

Do you have an Italian friend that makes homemade lemon cello, aka liquore di limone, or limoncino? If you don’t you are in for a treat. Assuming you enjoy an occasional adult beverage that is. Don’t have too much though, it will increase your probability of cancer.

For anyone that doesn't know "lemon cello" (the most commonly sold variety of cello in the US) it is a sweet lemon flavored liquor. It is typically served after dinner as an aperitif. You can find it in most large liquor stores in the US. In my opinion, the commercial stuff isn't nearly as tasty as the homemade version.

In Italy every household makes their own cello. I learned this on a trip to Italy in the early 90’s from a Tuscan housewife. Italians use grain alcohol for their cello, but I find vodka to be much smoother and easier to drink. I use Absolute since it is reasonably priced and fairly neutral in flavor. The fruit and sugar will be the stars of this beverage.

Whenever I am using citrus fruit I scrub the outside before I do anything else. Then I use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer most skin from the fruit (zest). Don’t go into the pith (the white inner membrane) or your cello will be bitter. Put the zest into the jar and cover it with vodka. Cover the jar with a tight fitting lid and store it in a cool dry place (I use my pantry). I always have multiple bottles going at the same time (as you saw above). You may find it useful to label them if you do this since the zest will lose its color as it sits in the vodka. Then, as I use more fresh citrus I add the zest to the appropriate bottle. Allow the zest to sit in the vodka for at least a week, a month is better, and a year isn’t too long. Taste the vodka periodically to see if it has pulled the oils from the skin and tastes like the fruit. If you are happy with the level of flavor you can move to the next step.

Strain the zest from the vodka and press to get it to release all the flavored vodka. Now you can sweeten the flavored vodka how you like. Traditionally Italians use simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) that have been heated to dissolve the sugar and then cooled. Only add cooled syrup to your flavored vodka so that you don’t evaporate any alcohol. Add as much simple syrup as you like. Cello can be very sweet, or a little sweet.

Next put the finished cello into a pretty bottle (not completely full since frozen water expands) with a tight lid, and store it in the freezer until you want to drink it. It is good over ice in a frozen glass. We also like to use it with sparkling water (we use Pellegrino) and make adult lemonade. It is great over ice cream, or fresh fruit. The possibilities are almost endless.

If you want to make your cello your own you can change what you put inside. Our favorite is pink grapefruit and orange cello with cranberry syrup. We combine pink grapefruit and orange vodka with a cranberry juice that we sweeten with agave. Another very popular combination is orange and vanilla cello (excellent over vanilla ice cream). To make this one you add a vanilla bean to the orange zest. You could also add vanilla extract, but the little black flecks from the bean are very nice and more aromatic.

I hope you enjoy making cello. If you give it a try please let me know. Should you have any questions post a comment or drop me an email. I have made hundreds of bottles of this stuff and would be happy to answer your questions. By the way, this makes great presents if you have one of those hard to buy for friends. Just don't wait until the last minute to get started.

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