Of course I am not referring to the instrument but riffing off of the concept of limoncello, the lovely Italian digestif liquor. Sweet and citrusy, I have long enjoyed both drinking and making limoncello. But I read a blog before Christmas that referred to Pomelocello–a liquor in the style of limoncello but made with grapefruits. This of course engendered a flurry of comments wherein we all collectively realized you could make cello with any citrus fruit. INSPIRATION! I immediately vowed to make a series of cellos to give as Christmas gifts.
If you’ve never made cello, don’t be afraid. It’s terribly easy and the results will knock your socks off and trick lucky recipients into thinking you are more talented than you really are. Well, maybe you ARE that talented (Alix, Mahogany) but I rely on such trickery to impress!
So, I set out to make a flight of cellos. I purchased a modest selection of citrus, clementines, lemons, grapefruit, and limes. You could make kumquat, buddahs hand, blood orange, and all manner of cellos if you really wanted to get crazy, but I wanted to see how it translated to other fruits before I spent a small fortune on exotics.
You will also need a clear, strong alcohol. Vodka or everclear (grain) were the two recommendations. I’m not sure you can even buy grain alcohol in PA any more, and frankly, the flashbacks to high school are enough to dissuade me from ever even standing near an open bottle of grain again.
You don’t need a good vodka for this, and in fact your money would probably be wasted if you purchased a really high end brand, but Pinnacle is pretty good and it was on sale for the same price as Nicolai.
Once you get all your supplies you need to peel your citrus. The ease of this varies tremendously. Grapefruit was pretty easy. Clementines? Not so much. See, the trick is, you want JUST the rind–no pith. The pith is the white stuff between the rind and the fruit and it is bitter. I’d love to give you a fool proof standard for removing rind from citrus but it varies. The grapefruit is thick enough you can use a peeler. You get some pith, but it is easily removed with a very sharp knife.
But that didn’t work for the clementines. I tried it and the force of the peeler was enough to rupture the skin and cause it all to come off, pith and all. So I ended up peeling the clementine and then removing the pith with a very sharp knife. A long and annoying process, even with the help of a captive 12 year old.
So basically, you have to figure out what works best for you and remove the peel from the pith and the fruit. How much? Well the more you have the faster/better/stronger your cello will be. I aim to have my bottle about 1/3 to 1/2 full of rinds. (You’ll also need some extra containers/bottles. The rind displaces the booze so you can’t just shove it into a full bottle and be done…you get the idea).
So you fill your bottles with 1/3-1/2 rind and vodka and put them away somewhere cool and dark. Ok, mine sat on the counter. Not exactly cool and only sometimes dark, but everyone seems to agree cool and dark is the ticket, so do as I say, not as I do.
Estimates of how long to let them sit range from 60 days to 10 days. The Pomelocello and Clemoncello sat for close to 60 days, the lemon and lime much closer to 10. There really wasn’t a huge qualitative difference, though you definitely should aim for at least a few weeks.
Once you’ve let them sit as long as you are going to let them sit you make simple syrup to finish them off. Simple. Except… This step also allows for some degree of personalization. The first time I made limoncello the recipe called for mixing the steeped vodka and simple syrup on a 1:1 ration. It was too sweet and I didn’t even add all the syrup! At the same time, if you add a lot less in order to cut the sweetness you will get a product that is very, very high in ABV, making it difficult (not to mention dangerous in its deceptive sweetness) to drink strait. If you want it less sweet I suggest using more water and less sugar in your simple syrup so you still cut the alcohol down enough to have a sipping liquor. If you want it more sweet, use more sugar in your syrup so you don’t water it down so much it dilutes the flavor right along with the alcohol content.
I wish I could tell you exactly the ratios I used, but you know by know I’m much more fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants than that! I made a syrup and added it to the infused vodka, tasting it until I got it right–and was more than a little buzzed! Small tastes if you are making a lot!
So the BIG question…how did it taste?
I was so excited about the pomelocello that I have to say I was crushed (CRUSHED) that it wasn’t as spectacular as I imagined. The Lime and the clemencello however were sublime. So delicious! So flavorful! The lime totally surprised me because I wasn’t at all thinking about it. It was sort of an “extra” to round out the flight. I have friends who LOVE limoncello and know plenty of purists so I had to make that, but the lime–eh, whatever. Boy was I wrong! It is just phenomenal. The sharp lime flavor really stands out on its own, whereas, surprisingly, the grapefruit sort of recedes.
So not only was that my assessment, but I did a round of tastings for my father and Robby on Christmas Eve and they agreed. Bummer…or not. One night recently I decided to have a glass of the pomelocello before bed. It has to get drunk eventually…
And it was really good! Delicious even! I ended up having 2 glasses that night and thinking, with a hiccup, that it was a shame it wasn’t a weekend night! Apparently when set in relief against the incredible clemencello and limecello the subtle but delicious qualities of pomelocello were easy to over look.
The lesson: its hard to go wrong with cello! I would like to try some other exotic flavors but even the humble lime is rendered spectacular when mixed with vodka and sweetened. But I guess that isn’t really all that surprising, is it?
–on a side note, I ordered lovely bottles to gift my cellos in from here: Shore Container. Even though shipping added to the cost, they were still way more affordable than anything you’ll find around here. They have a lot of cool containers actually.