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Meyer Lemons Make Easy California-Style Limoncello

California-style limoncello. Credit: Cheryl Lee

California-style limoncello. Credit: Cheryl Lee

In my front yard are two old, thorny Meyer lemon trees. I do nothing special for these trees, just let them have water and sunshine. And I have no control over the sunshine. Twice a year those dwarf trees are loaded with lemons. They cannot be more than 6 feet tall, but both produce hundreds of pounds of lemons each.  The weight comes from the abundance of juice each lemon holds.

Meyer lemons are very thin skinned with a fragrant, almost floral scent. The zest will make any dish pop with flavor. I use it instead of butter on steamed asparagus, sprinkle it into green salads for extra zip, and mix it into both sweet and savory types of dough.

The harvests are always so abundant I give bags of lemons to friends and neighbors, make lemonade, lemon curd and lemon cake. But most important, I make limoncello. I make lots of limoncello because I like to give some of it away. I also like to give some to myself.

But this limoncello is slightly different than the traditional Italian style of limoncello. I use the entire lemon in the initial infusing. Most recipes call for lemon zest only, but my Meyer lemons are so lovely I like to include the juice in the process. The majority of the flavor and aroma of the lemon is found in the zest, but the juice adds another layer of citrus intensity to the limoncello. The pith of the Meyer is also not as bitter as other lemons because it is a sweeter lemon. It is thought to be a cross between a regular lemon and a Mandarin or other variety of orange.

Meyer lemons in vodka, becoming limoncello. Credit: Cheryl Lee

Meyer lemons in vodka, becoming limoncello. Credit: Cheryl Lee

Traditionalists would say this is not true limoncello, as my method is different, if only slightly so. I was even chastised by a 21-year-old from Belgium after I posted a picture of my quartered lemons steeping in vodka on my Instagram page. She wrote “You have to peel the lemons and put them in the alcohol (not the entire lemon).” Well, all right then.

Now that a girl from Europe young enough to be my daughter has tried to set me straight, I will continue to do it my way. The limoncello I make is absolutely delicious, so I see no need to alter my recipe, even if I am bucking tradition and offending Italians the world round.  If you make something that you like, even if you do not follow the traditional way of making it, it’s all right.

The lemons should be steeped for two weeks, but can be steeped up to four weeks. When ready to finish the limoncello, be sure to have a lot of clean bottles or jars to fill with the liquid gold. Or if keeping it all to yourself, one large jar.

Meyer Lemon Limoncello, California Style

Makes 2 to 3 quarts


10 to 15 Meyer Lemons, preferably organic, scrubbed

1 (750 milliliter) bottle vodka or Everclear (grain alcohol)

2 cups water

1½ to  2 cups raw sugar

1 cup honey


1 large glass vessel to prepare the limoncello (large enough to accommodate 15 lemons and a bottle of alcohol)

Smaller bottles or jars to keep the finished limoncello (enough to accommodate about 3 quarts)


1. Cut the lemons into quarters and place into a large, clean jar.

2. Pour the bottle of vodka over the lemons.

3. Seal the jar and place it in a cool corner of the kitchen.

4. Let the lemons steep in the vodka for 2 to 4 weeks.

5. Strain the alcohol into a large bowl, reserve.

6. Place the lemons, water, sugar and honey into a large pot.

7. Turn the flame to low.

8. Using a potato masher, smash the lemons to release all their juices. Mash and stir until the sugar and honey are dissolved.

9. Strain the syrup, discard the lemons, and let the syrup cool.

10. Mix the reserved alcohol and the syrup.

11. Pour the limoncello into your jars and/or bottles. Place the bottles into the refrigerator, and let the limoncello rest for at least a day, preferably a week, before drinking.

Top photo: California-style limoncello. Credit: Cheryl Lee

Zester Daily contributor Cheryl D. Lee began her culinary training at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, then moved to New York, where among many roles she worked on Chef Emeril Lagasse's cooking show "Emeril Live," became the Assistant Test Kitchen Director at Woman's World magazine, and served as a chef and catering manager in the city's cafés. Returning to her native California, she has served as chef instructor at the California School of Culinary Arts and styled food on the sets of television's "Friends" and "The Bold and the Beautiful." She is the recipe developer, food stylist, photographer and chief dishwasher for her blog, Black Girl Chef's Whites, focusing on real food, developed by a classically trained chef, that anyone can make.

  • Dorothy at Shockingly Delicious 1·22·14

    All right, you are ON Cheryl! I am going into the back yard to get some Meyer lemons and now all I need is a big-enough jar!

    • Don Ingram 12·3·16

      Hi Cheryl, I was delighted to find this recipe. So I am trying it today. I put 15 lemons (in quarters) in the jar and poured in the 750 ml Everclear. However, the alcohol covers only about half the lemons. The picture in your article shows the liquid covering the lemons. So should I worry about this? Or add another 750 ml of Everclear?


      • Cheryl D Lee 12·4·16

        Hi Don, I would add more Everclear to cover the lemons. You want them to be covered with liquid. You can try and see if they will compress a bit as they sit in the alcohol, but I recommend more booze. And you’ll have more limoncello to enjoy!

  • annabelle lenderink 1·24·14

    Me too. Already have a jar of the traditional variety going and was wondering about throwing some Meyers in there but instead will try your recipe. Thanx for the inspiration. New traditions are born every day.

  • Peggy 2·8·14

    This sounds sounds so wonderful! I try to drink lemon water as much as possible because of the health benefits, but oh my, what an evening refresher this would be! As I live in the Ozarks I’m not even sure I can find Meyer lemons, but if I can I want to make some. My question is though, how long will it keep if kept in air-tight jars and does it need to be kept refrigerated at all times if I use the air-tight jars?

  • Peggy 2·8·14

    Also, do you have a limoncello cake recipe? 🙂

  • Jack Shaw 3·14·14

    Am much taken with your approach to limoncello and will give it a try. Years in France with vacation jaunts to the Amalfi Coast developed ingrained practices with eaux de vie and limoncello. They tended to warm up too quickly so I moved all from the refrigerator to a permanent home in the freezer. That way you do not have to fuss with chilling glasses, and once poured it stays at appropriate temperature. Look forward to trying your limoncello champagne cocktail. Thank you..

  • Charles 3·26·14

    I use a standard Lemon Cake Mix, following the package directions, – EXCEPT- I substitute my CITRACELLO for the water. Works fine for me.

    My CITRACELLO is the same recipe as the Italian version, but I use a combination of, lemon, orange, kumquats, and grapefruit. I peel the fruit being careful to avoid the white pith. Otherwise I follow the usual method. I also store the finished product in the freezer.

  • Mathis 5·12·14

    Wondering how long you let it sit over the low flame while you squeeze the juice and mix in the sugar and honey … until it actually gets hot?

  • Larry 6·14·14

    Making this right now! I happened to score on a pile of Meyer Lemons and cannot wait for the finished product! We are two weeks into infusion. We’ll let it steep for another week or two and then in to the bottles we go! I would love a great dessert recipe for the Limoncello.

  • Jack 2·16·15

    Used your recipe last year to make 2 gallons of Limoncello, and low and behold we have now run out of Limoncello. Fortunately, our little lemon trees gave us another nice crop, but this year I have modified your recipe by eliminating the pith during the month-long infusion process. We zested the skin, then removed the pith and put the rest of the lemons along with the zest into the alcohol. I still plan to use the honey as well as following the rest of your recipe. I will let you know how it turns out in a few days.

  • Shannon 3·18·15

    Thanks for the recipe and notes. I am giving your Cali Style Meyer Limoncello recipe a whirl… I’ve never made limoncello before or even really tasted limoncello before, but am addicted to Meyer lemons… so this could be dangerous! >=D My inaugural batch started last night… can’t wait!

  • Walle 11·16·15

    We only get Meyers for a few months a year and found this recipe after the season and couldn’t wait until they’re back. They will be here and your recipe calls for raw sugar. Does this mean the brown kind? or is white OK? I also have maple syrup made into raw sugar, will this super good or not? Thank for your reply in advance. I just joined Zester Daily today but there was not a spot for Canada so I clicked Louisiana(birthplace)

  • Cheryl D Lee 11·16·15

    Hi Walle,

    you can use regular granulated white sugar. I tend to use raw sugar (the brown kind with larger crystals) but I have made it with white sugar.

    I would not recommend the maple sugar, as that will give the limoncello a maple flavor. It may be delicious, but I am not going to try it to find out!

    • Walle 11·17·15

      Dear Mrs Lee,

      Thanks for the fast reply. I understand what you mean about the maple sugar. There was another person that asked about zesting the Meyers before infusing like the classic but still adding the juice. Have you tried it the way? Take your time answering as I just starting making your recipe on Nov 16th. I got lucky and found some Meyers yesterday at my local Chinese Market. We only get Meyers for a few months as they are imported to Vancouver, Canada from the USA. Thanks Again, Walle

  • Liz 2·15·16

    I just started a batch and posted a picture on Facebook. Immediately was chastised by my Italian friend for not peeling the lemons. Hehehe!

  • Cheryl D Lee 2·16·16


    You tell them it is California style!

  • Belle 2·18·16

    This is what my grandmother called hard lemonade. She’d make it every summer, as well as limoncello. The only difference was that the hard lemonade was diluted a bit with ice cubes and served over a bit of muddled mint. The limoncello was usually served chilled.

  • name Stacey 4·18·16

    Does it matter if you make the limoncello in a non-glass container? Like a large Tupperware?