I told you that I had recently returned from a trip to Europe, but left out many of the specifics, like where I went, because I was saving some of it for this post. The biggest part of my European trip was to Rome, Italy. To say I was excited to go would be a major understatement. Yes, I saw all of the ruins, the relics, the paintings, the fabulous looking men, the pasta (oh, the pasta), the pizza and pretty much everything else you could see when in Rome (oh yeah, the riots were going on while we were there…so that was fun). But one of the most interesting things I did, while in Italy, was take a day trip to Sorrento to visit Villa Massa – a prominent maker of Limoncello.
After a train ride to Naples, I was picked up by Gabriele, the International Sales Director for Villa Massa. Thankfully, my ridiculously poor Italian (no thanks to my college professor – Dr. Pedone) was not a hindrance to my time spent with Gabriele. He took me on the hour drive, down the beautiful coast, from the Naples train station to Sorrento. Along the way we had a little unplanned stop, so I got to take this photo of Mt. Vesuvius. Facing the other direction was the Isle of Capri (I’ve already determined that’s going to be my next trip to Italy).
Villa Massa was the first company to commercially bottle and sell Limoncello, in 1991. Prior to that, the Limoncello you would find in homes, restaurants and hotels was most likely made by them for their own personal use and to give to guests. As we’ve seen in the food blogging community, making Limoncello is relatively simple. It only takes 4 ingredients: lemon peels, alcohol, sugar and water. If you have a bottle of Limoncello with more than 4 ingredients…get rid of it. Seriously, you’ll thank me.
Officially, Limoncello should only be made from lemons that come from Sorrento. In fact, the European Union has even granted Sorrento with a ‘Protected Geographical Indication’ (which is similar to the official wine regions of France) along with an official seal (so if you want to ensure your Limoncello uses the best lemons, look for the seal that says “Limone di Sorrento”). These lemons are a particular strain that thrives in the coastal region. Technically, lemons should not be able to grow there due to the cooler climate (lemons generally need hot and sunny areas to thrive). However, not only does this type of lemon do well there, but the lemon trees in Sorrento get 4-5 crops of lemons each growing season! (The season is January – November.)
I was fortunate to have been able to tour the facility where the Limoncello is made. If you’ve ever had to peel citrus fruit without getting any of the white pith (that’s the tart bitter white layer just underneath the skin) you know how tiring and frustrating it can be. Of course, if you are drinking Limoncello from Sorrento at someone’s home, that they’ve made themselves, they’ve peeled the fruit by hand. But you can’t do that when you’re bottling large quantities. So, they have a machine for that. I was amazed, and jealous, at the same time. And yes, the action really does move that quickly. There was an intoxicating aroma of lemons in the air in seconds after this machine started up.
Gabriele explained to me that the entire production of their Limoncello takes place in their building. Which, since it’s in a residential area looks surprisingly small for the amount of product they produce. However, they have dug into the ground to make more room. So instead of building up or out…they’ve gone subterranean. Even still, the facilities are surprisingly small (but maybe that’s because I’m used to massive production facilities given my past work history).
The lemon trees are also quite small, compared to the lemon trees I’m used seeing here in California. The first picture in this post is one of them alongside a stone wall. The photo below gives you a better idea of the stature of the trees. The wood that you see all around the trees is old chestnut trees (yes, they have fantastic chestnuts in Italy, unlike the one’s we have here…so that’s where you can get the Marrons Glacés that I destroyed my fingers trying to make last year). The thin wooden slats in the picture are also made from chestnut wood. These are used on the sides and the top to shade the trees from the hot sun in the summer. When I was there, they were only on the sides and the tops had been removed to allow more sun to reach the trees.
After touring the facilities and seeing where the lemons are grown, it was off to lunch. Gabriele took me to a restaurant along the coast and ordered nothing short of a seafood feast. Being that Sorrento is on the coast, seafood is the primary food of the area…which was in stark contrast to the predominately pizza and pasta diet found in Rome.
Of course, he saved the best part for last – sampling Villa Massa’s Limoncello from Sorrento. Okay, truth be told…I was able to sample some back at the facilities, but as you can see by the spread…this was the BIG TASTING.
We sampled chilled Limoncello, Cream Limoncello, Mandarin Liqueur, Orange Liqueur and Walnut Liqueur. The only one of these that’s currently available in the US is the Limoncello. So it’s a good thing that Gabriele has extended an open invitation to anyone who would like to visit Villa Massa to let him know and he will arrange a tour for you.
Most people simply drink Limoncello as an after dinner drink, or as a digestif. But it’s also a great mixer. I was able to sample a popular Limoncello cocktail while at Villa Massa. Of course, you also may remember that I made a blueberry lemonade with my half made Limoncello, but it would taste even better if it were made with the completed Limoncello recipe.
Why not end your Thanksgiving dinner on a citrusy note this year? To help settle and digest all that turkey and stuffing, our crew will be sipping Limoncello (Villa Massey – natch) as we then allow the visions of sugarplums to dance in our heads.
Sometimes it’s a toss up, I know.
Recipe: The Sorriento
- 2 Ounces Villa Massa Limoncello
- 4 Ounces Tonic Water
- Prepare directly in a tall drink glass, add ice, tonic water and Villa Massa Limoncello.
- Garnish with lemon peel.
Preparation time: 5 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 1
Culinary tradition: Italian