Truth be told, I’ve never really liked limoncello. The bulk of the ones I’ve sampled are either as bitter as an unemployed Tea Partier or as artificially sweet as a Drew Barrymore romcom. A great many commercial brands taste like they’re made from frozen concentrate, and deliver an off-putting alcohol burn and/or an overly creamy mouthfeel. Plus, limoncello is notorious for not playing nice with other spirits and mixers in cocktails.
I haven’t always been so forthright regarding my opinion of Italian lemon liqueur, however. Indeed, several years back in a column penned for Metro International Newspapers I claimed to have been “in love” with a limoncello brand peddled by Danny DeVito, when in actuality every sip induced the dreaded sour-pucker face.
What can I say? I was a young up-and-comer who thought sucking up to DeVito could help me launch a successful showbiz career of my own. And as the gazillions of television viewers who caught my guest appearance on Conan last week can attest, I have indeed become a huge celebrity.
Though, looking back, I don’t recall DeVito being one of the hundreds of people I had to bone on my way to the top.
Okay, right, so this past weekend I’m hanging out in Ventura, California—a remote outpost 50 miles north of LA where famous people like me often go to escape the glare of the Hollywood spotlight—and wouldn’t you know I meet a lovely couple named James Carling and Manuela Zaretti-Carling, who make a limoncello that is not only potable, but downright delicious. Sure, neither of them had ever heard of me before, but I didn’t hold that against them. After all, they’re from Ventura. I don’t think they’ve even gotten the Internet there yet.
Founded in 2007, the Ventura Limoncello Company occupies all of 1,800 square feet inside a nondescript office park on the outskirts of the primitive beachfront community. The Carlings not only make the limoncello themselves, they bottle and market it as well. It’s as mom-and-pop an operation as you’re likely to find in today’s conglomeratized booze biz, right down to the all-natural recipe handed down through generations of Manuela’s family in the Old Country. Mama mia, thats-a making me a-buzzed!
The Carlings quickly established themselves as America’s finest limoncello producers, racking up top honors at prestigious competitions from coast to coast. Proportions of ingredients and length of infusion are closely guarded company secrets, but James Carling let it slip that a key to his limoncello’s dynamite taste is the way they hand-peel locally-grown lemons—just the outer portion of the skin containing the essential oils. No pith! Pith tastes like… well, like the thing people with lisps actually mean when they say “pith.”
Most people sip limoncello straight from the freezer, when it’s colder than a mortgage lender’s heart. It’s a centuries-old tradition, plus the chill helps mask any off-notes. The intrepid Carling, on the other hand, says he’s got nothing to hide and prefers to serve his hootch straight at fridge temperature allowing all the flavors to shine through. In the limoncello world, they call that having a big set of lemons.
Personally, I’m digging a concoction called the Pierpont Limoncello Mohito (courtesy of The Pierpont Inn, Ventura, CA) that calls for equal parts Ventura Limoncello Originale and Bacardi Superior, with muddled mint, lime juice, and a splash of soda. So refreshing, it’d make Danny DeVito feel like a giant.
And if Mr. DeVito happens to be reading this, please know that I’m only joshing around — you know, one big star to another.
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