A couple of years after JT and I tied the knot we went to Europe together, it was a combination business and pleasure trip. As the business part of our trip, we went to Modena, Italy to see a piece of equipment that JT’s soap-making family business purchased. As you may or may not know, Italy is well known for its soap making equipment. And a little known fact 😉 Modena is the epicentre of balsamic vinegar.
The Italians take their balsamics very seriously, think of the French and champagne. The special thing about the thick, rich vinegar is that it’s aged for several years in a variety of barrels; it is this very aging process that gives this unique condiment its sweet and piquant flavour, rich and luxurious colour and thick, viscous texture.
We drove up from Florence where we were staying a few days during the middle of our trip; it’s a scenic 2 hour drive through the lush Italian countryside. The Italians had been making soap equipment for hundreds of years and at that time, they were some of the best. JTs family already had several Italian pieces in their factory and although they had purchased some pieces from Italy before, this particular machine was a first-time purchase from this vendor, so a visit from ‘the customer’ was a big deal. We met with Mr. Borghi the English speaking Italian representative of the equipment maker. The machine itself was over six figures so you can imagine our surprise when we were taken to a humble rural garage where a few men were busy hand crafting the machine! A very tall, broad, heavily bearded gentleman approached us with visible excitement. He was wearing mechanics coveralls and his hands were covered in machine grease, he didn’t speak a word of English so Mr. Borghi had to translate for us. We had a short tour of the garage (really just one large room) and then we were invited to lunch.
We ate an enormous meal at a humble, family run local restaurant; each dish was prepared with love and respect to its origins. I don’t recall much of the meal (it was 27 years ago!) except that it was lively with conversation and it was my very first introduction to balsamic vinegar. When our host discovered that I had never had balsamic before, he insisted I order a steak that was garnished with 100 year old balsamic table side (and no, they did not leave the bottle), the waiter ceremoniously poured a few drops of the liquid gold onto my perfectly cooked steak. Everyone (yes, everyone in the packed little restaurant) stopped and watched as I carefully cut into the juicy steak and took my first bite. At the time I thought it was odd, after all it’s only vinegar with a dark, thick, chocolate syrup-like colour. But as soon as it hit my tongue I understood how truly special that moment was. The earthy, salty flavour of the rare cook steak against the thick, sweet, pungent and complexly flavoured vinegar was something I had never experienced before, I was in heaven! As my ‘audience’ waited with baited breath, I knew my face revealed the reaction they were hoping for: pure, unadulterated bliss – words were not needed. Then the restaurant resumed the animated conversation and clatter of cutlery against the plates. As an after lunch digestive, our gracious hosts poured some delicious, luciously thick and ice cold limoncello. What a treat that was.
After lunch our lovely translator, Mr. Borghi insisted that he buy me a bottle of balsamic to remember the experience, so in the parking lot after a long and deliciously filling meal, a plan was hatched. We would follow Mr. Borghi a short distance to a reputable shop where he would pop in, buy the vinegar, say our farewells and we would continue our drive to Florence. The “short drive” turned into 45 minutes and was in the complete opposite direction to Florence which meant our two hour trip was now three and a half. Poor JT. But I had a prized possession: my very first four leaf balsamic vinegar!
I suspect that Italians feel the same way about Limincello and that the process to make it is as revered as the final product itself. Limincello was, of course, invented in Sorrento, Italy some 600 km south of Modena. And although this recipe claims to be originally Italian, this particular version is not. However, I was truly intrigued by the process and it had to be made. Sadly I was not able to source Meyer Lemons (see notes) as the recipe suggests but I did go the extra mile to purchase organic lemons for the main reason suggested in the article: the alcohol evaporates in the enclosed glass, macerating the lemon skin and then falling back to the bottom of the jar as flavoured liquid so you don’t want pesticides contaminating your Limoncello.
Please click here for the “best limoncello recipe you’ve ever tasted”
I followed the recipe with the exception of the organic Meyer lemons, I used ordinary organic lemons.
I also made a simple syrup using the same weight of raw sugar as water and dissolved it by simply stirring for a few minutes and not boiling. Next time I’ll use ordinary sugar but I’ll do the same process, I wasn’t pleased with the amber colour of the simple syrup and its negative effect on the colour of the limoncello, although when poured into a small glass, it was pretty yellow.
I must admit I was pretty pleased with the outcome. Except for the cost. In Ontario, a 750 mL of Skyy vodka is $38.75, the organic lemons were $3.00 and the raw sugar was $4.00. A bottle of commercial limoncello is $18.35.
- I did buy as lovely Meyer Lemon tree that presently has about 15 little lemons growing on it!