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In this episode, we hear all about the history and secrets of one of Italy’s favorite drinks – Limoncello! Traditionally a digestive, it is a flavor so indicative of Italy that the smell alone can take you right there. Imagine sitting alfresco somewhere beautiful on the Amalfi or Sorrento Coasts, sipping an ice-cold glass, at the end of a delicious meal.
We welcome back Pierpaolo from Joe Banana Limos & Travel, a family-run company that has been helping travelers explore Italy for over a decade. A talented guide for Naples, Pompeii, and the Sorrentine and Amalfi coasts, Pierpaolo is also a huge foodie. He’s already shared his in-depth knowledge of pizzas and here he talks to us about the delicious limoncello that his part of Italy (and Italy in general) is so famous for.
Joe Banana offers a unique 50 Shades of Lemon Tour – a day tour from Rome to the Amalfi Coast and includes learning how Limoncello is made and a delicious lunch in a stunning location.
What you’ll learn in this episode
- The lemon trees of the Amalfi and Sorrentine Coasts first arrived many, many centuries ago from India
- Historically the lemon was used for its antiseptic antiaromatic properties. The Egyptians used lemon to embalm and the Greeks to wash their clothes and keep away moths
- The use of lemons came into its own in the 1300s when they were brought by the Byzantines and Arabians to Sicily and from Sicily spread over Southern Italy
- When you are in Sorrento and Amalfi areas, you’ll see these nets right above the lemon trees. These are used to protect the lemons from too much sunlight as well as the occasional hail storm – both of which can damage the lemons
- In the 1700s they started to use it in cooking. And who better than the monks to make a liquor out of them? They have always been the best at creating meetings of herbs and fruits in this way.
- The fundamental of Limoncello is taking grain alcohol and you putting with the lemon peel – only the yellow part though as the white part is bitter
- Grappa, which is made from the leftovers of the wine-making process is (to put it mildly) strong – starting from 40% alcohol. Grappa and the other famous digestive Amaro, as well as lighter, more refreshing Limoncello, historically were drunk before you started your meal to start the digestive juices in your stomach – preparing you for the meal. This is now more commonly taken at the end of a meal, but with the same principle of aiding digestion after eating a large meal
- Fisherman are those who first started to drink Limoncello regularly – drinking it to wake them up and warm them up for their cold 2/3am starts
- Limoncello must be served cold – not from the fridge but from the freezer
- Historically brands have never had to market Limoncello for it to be successful – so much so that it has been studied by marketing students as to how this kind of word of mouth only effect worked
- As well as the usual rum baba you can also get/make Limoncello baba’s made in the same way – yum!!
- There is a local sweet called Lemon Delight, which involves ball-shaped sponge stuffed with a lemon-infused cream and covered with chantilly cream, and topped with lemon zest
- Candied lemon peel is delicious and one of the most natural candies that you can ever enjoy
- Another delicious, but savoury lemony treat is to wrap smoked mozzarella or shrimp in fresh lemon leaves and then grilling over charcoal
- The lemon growing in this region has meant so many areas have been saved from being built on. Even in the center of Sorrento, you can find in amongst the large, urban, buildings – beautiful lemon yards which Pierpaolo describes as being like the lungs of the city
- There are many restaurants and places where you can grab a meal and sip limoncello surrounded by lemons – check out our list below.
About our guest – Pierpaolo Guida
Pierpaolo runs Joe Banana Limo & Travels with his brother Giovanni. They have more than two decades of experience in the toursim business.
Giovanni’s nickname ‘Joe Banana’, is the inspiration for the name of my company. Nicknames are really popular in the southern part of Italy, where basically, every family has one. Giovanni was given this nickname when he was 9 years old. His Grandad used to sell fruits using a three-wheel minivan, and he used to sit on the back trailer as he drove street by street through their little village. One day he was eating a banana while riding on the back of his grandad’s trailer when a few of his school friends saw him, and from that moment his nickname became “Banana”.
Giovanni began his career as a tour director and driver of tour buses, taking tourists from all over the world to visit the main cities around Europe. In 2010, he started his own little business with driving and guide services. He was soon joined by brother Pierpaolo, who started his career studying management of touristic enterprises and who with further studying and a lot of experience under his belt, in 2015 became a licensed professional tour guide.
Year after year they have grown and have added private boat tours, private guided tours and other services, until the realization of their dream that was to become a travel agency. In this way, they feel they can meet all the needs of their guests.
You can find Pierpaolo and Joe Banana on these channels:
- Trip Advisor: Joe Banana Limos
- Call free from US/Canada: +1 888 727 4707
World Known Limoncello (Where to get it when you’re outside of Italy)
Local And Bio Sorrento Center
Local But Easier To Find In Town
More Touristy But Still Good In The City Center San Cesareo Street
More Limoncello Places Out Of Sorrento
Vico Equense Town
- Gabriele ( here you can find the Lemon Delight as well)
Massa Lubrense Town
Amalfi Coast (Amalfi And Maiori)
Places to Eat & Drink
Restaurants with Lemon Yards
Amalfi Coast – Minori
Other Food & Drink
- amaro – an Italian liqueur infused with herbs with a bitter-sweet taste
- grappa – produced from the leftovers of pressed grapes. Normally clear in colour although it can be flavored with various fruits such as blueberries, apples and pears etc and with a high alcohol content
- Bassano del Grappa – where they make grappa
- femminiello and sfusato – the 2 main lemon varieties
- Stega – a brand that buys Limoncello for their brand and also famous for a liquor, base in Benevento
- frescoes – lemons are seen in some of the ancient frescoes in Pompeii
- femminiello – the name of a variety of lemon came from a Neopolitan term used to refer to a population of people who embody a third gender role in traditional Neapolitan culture
- Vincenza Canale – ran the pension on Capri where this drink started to get famous from her famous and influential guests
- Mr Krupp – steel magnet, one of Vincenza’s guests
- Axel Munthe – famous Swedish doctor and psychiatrist and another Limoncello lover
Resources from Untold Italy
- Find more about food on the Amalfi Coast in 7 reasons to join a Sorrento food tour on your trip to Italy and Pierpaolos well-researched pizza recommendations in Best Pizzas in Naples
- Listen: Hear more from Pierpaolo in Episode #067 Exploring the Amalfi Coast by Road and by Sea and Episode #073: Pizza from Naples – the full story and for more Amalfi foodie delights, Episode #021: Savoring Sorrento – a food lovers guide to Italy’s city by the sea
- Heading to the Amalfi Coast soon? Our digital Positano Guide is now available at the Untold Italy shop, full of load of useful info to carry with you, including the best restaurants, local dishes to try as well as beach clubs, walks, shopping, a packing list and more – untolditaly.com/shop
- How to plan a trip to Italy – our article that takes you step by step through trip planning so you can avoid our mistakes
- Italy Travel Planning – our FREE online community where you can ask questions and get inspiration for planning your trip
- Travel shop where you’ll find items mentioned in the show
Prefer to read along as you listen? You can download a PDF version of the full transcript of this episode.