One thing you may have heard about Sorrento, a pretty little town on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, is that it is famous for its lemons. On my port day in Naples, I took a small group tour that included a stop in Sorrento. I’m not sure how I expected it would play out. Would we drive by lemon orchards on our way into town? Would the town be permeated with a lemony-fresh scent? Would there be people dressed in lemon costumes waving cheerily to us as we drove into town? (Come on, you know if Sorrento were in the U.S., that would happen. Thankfully, Italy has more class than that.)
What I didn’t expect was to see lemon trees growing right on the main streets in the center of town. And let me tell you, they grow their lemons BIG in Sorrento.
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in a place like Florida or California that had citrus trees everywhere; where you could have them in your backyard and just go out and grab one whenever you want instead of having to run to the grocery store. How cool would that be? Need a wedge of lemon to squeeze over your fish fillet or into your ice water? Just go grab a lemon from the tree out back. The things I could do if I had free lemons at hand all the time! I’d try out every lemon recipe I could get my hands on–lemon chicken, lemon meringue pie, lemon cake, lemon bars, lemon egg drop soup.
Because of its plentiful lemons, one of Sorrento’s most popular exports is limoncello, a liquor made from grain alcohol, lemon peels or “zest”, water and sugar (otherwise known as “simple syrup”). I had never tried limoncello before, but some women I met on my cruise were raving about it and spoke excitedly about picking up a couple of bottles to bring home with them. So I looked forward to giving it a try. Except for the alcohol, it sounds sort of like lemonade, doesn’t it?
Yeah, don’t let that fool you.
My small tour group stopped for lunch at a cute little restaurant in town before heading out to Positano. After we stuffed ourselves with various pizzas and pasta dishes, the owner brought out complimentary shots of limoncello, which is traditionally served at the end of meals to aid in digestion (thus why it is called a digestif). Got to love that Italian hospitality!
While some others in the group had spent their time in Sorrento sampling limoncello from every shop they passed, I was too busy running around town taking photos to even think of it. So I was very grateful for the opportunity to try it in the restaurant. As I lifted the little shot glass up to my lips, I was expecting a light, citrusy drink.
Instead, it burned like the fire of a thousand suns going down my throat.
What was this? Lemon Pledge in a glass???
I tried my damnedest, but I couldn’t finish even a shot glass of the liquor. As it turns out, limoncello has a pretty high alcohol content. So high, in fact, that you can store it in the freezer and it won’t freeze.
I admit it: I am a lightweight when it comes to alcohol. My favorite hard liquor is Jack Daniels, and even that I have to mix with Coke to make it drinkable. I’d be a complete failure as an alcoholic.
But hey, I’m still glad I got to sample this very famous product of Sorrento. That’s why we travel, right? To try new things? I may not have been enamored with the limoncello, but I certainly was with Sorrento; it is such a beautiful town to explore. I would gladly spend a month or more there, wandering its cobblestone streets, staring out at its stunning seascapes, and picking lemons every day.