The Amalfi Coast is famous for their lemons, which are huge—often 6-8 inches in length. The lemon trees planted along the Amalfi Coast are grown on well-drained terraced land overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, where they get the required six hours of sunlight daily. The variety that is grown is called Sfusato Amalfitano, from the Italian word affusolato which means streamlined and refers to the lemon’s elongated shape. It has a thick, pale yellow skin with an intense aroma that comes from the essential oils in the skin. The pulp is acidic and juicy with very few seeds.
The existence of lemon groves are documented as early as the 11th century when crusaders, returning from Palestine, brought along citrus fruit trees. In the 15th century the beneficial effects of vitamin C against scurvy was discovered. Matteo Camera, a historian from Amalfi, wrote in the 17th century that lemons were shipped from Minori, a picturesque fishing village located between Positano and Amalfi, two hundred years earlier. He also documents that shipments included limoncello and cetrangoli (bitter oranges).
The harvest of Amalfi Coast lemons is limited to 25 tons per hectare. The lemons are picked by hand from February to mid-October. Nets are placed under the trees to collect fruit that falls before it is harvested by hand. If they are picked before they are ready to use, some will rot. But if left on the tree, they will not rot and will only grow bigger. The warm climate and long growing season in Italy allow for a long harvest season.
It is not certain where the recipe for the regional liqueur limoncello originated. In Amalfi, limoncello had been used for ages by fishermen and countrymen to fight the morning cold.
The first recipe to be documented originated in 1900 in a small boarding house on the island Azzurra, near Capri. The innkeeper there, Vincenza Canale, treated her patrons to her homemade liqueur as a complimentary, after-dinner digestivo. In 1988, her grandson Massimo Canale started a small handmade production of limoncello using his Nonna’s recipe and registering the trademark. Today, the family’s company, Limoncello di Capri, is one of the leading limoncello manufacturers and is still run by the grandchildren of Signora Canale.