Springtime practically screams fresh citrus fruit. But every new beginning comes from another beginnings end. So, while oranges, limes and lemons arrive on the scene, in season, and in abundance, one citrus fruit we bid adieu to, might be the best one of all for cocktails. And that is the Meyer lemon.
The Meyer lemon is a winter citrus (like the blood orange), and its season ends just around springtime. Sometimes referred to as a cross between a lemon and an orange – it isn’t, the Meyer lemon is a cross between a citron and a mandarin – its flavor profile is distinctly lemony-orange. Which in the cocktail world is the Grand Prize of flavors. Many classic drinks call for a mixture of lemon and orange or lime and orange, with the syrupy triple sec usually adding the orange quotient. Lemon Drops are made with citrus vodka and triple sec, margaritas are tequila, lime and triple sec, sidecars are brandy, lime, lemon and triple sec, cosmopolitans are vodka, triple sec, lime, and cranberry. The list literally goes on and on.
The Meyer lemon bridges that gap all by itself. Sweet enough not to need sugar (or not much) and tart enough to add that essential bite. Since almost all cocktails are a delicate balance of either sweet and bitter or sweet and sour, the Meyer lemon helps reduce the sugar content, the guesswork, as well as the shopping list. Meyer lemons will help your margarita blossom, they go along for the ride nicely in a Sidecar and they will take the steepest dive out of your Kamikaze.
This is not new information. Cocktails as we know them most likely evolved from communal punches (into individualized punches), which themselves evolved from simple infusions (combinations of alcohol and fruit juices aged over time). And one of the most classic of all infusions is the Italian lemon infusion called Limoncello. And you know what lemon works best in Limoncello? You guessed it, the Meyer lemon.
Recently I reached out to two locals both of whom are known for their Limoncello, and both of whom insist on Meyer lemons. The first is Felicia Ferguson née Petrone, owner/operator of Piazza D’Angelo in Mill Valley, which features a Limoncello Spritz on their menu made with their own house made Limoncello. The second is Joyce Porter of Mill Valley, who is the host of the Vegan blog goodmotherdiet, and who also has one of the largest Meyer lemon trees that I have ever seen (typically they are more bush-like). With their help we just might keep the Meyer lemon season’s last call at bay for just a bit longer.
10 Meyer lemons
1 liter bottle of vodka
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 ¼ cups water
1 gallon jar
Three or four clean and dry storage bottles with stoppers
Limoncello is a two-step process. The first step is making the infusion. Wash and then peel all the lemons making sure to get as little of the white pith as possible. Place only the peels in the gallon jar and fill with vodka. Typical Italian style Limoncello doesn’t use the flesh or juice of the lemons, and infusions made with whole lemons tend to oxidize more quickly (unappealingly changing both the color and the taste). Let the infusion sit for six to eight weeks in a cool dark place (shaking occasionally) until the color has reached the desired vibrancy. Then strain the infusion through a mesh strainer once to remove the large solids, and then again through a coffee filter to remove the smaller ones.
The second step is making simple syrup. Heat sugar and water until sugar dissolves completely. Let cool and then add half of the simple syrup mixture to the infusion. Add in smaller amounts until the desired balance in taste is reached. Finish by separating Limoncello into bottles to store. Tightly sealing and refrigerating the end result will prolong the shelf life. House made Limoncello will keep up to ten weeks, but discard if it begins to change color or develops any off flavors.
A more in depth recipe (with pictures) for a larger batch is available at goodmotherdiet-limocello
Limoncello Spritz (as adapted from the house recipe at Piazza D’Angelo)
1 ½ ounces Limoncello
1 ounce Fever Tree Ginger Beer
1 ounce prosecco (or other dry sparkling wine)
1 Meyer lemon wheel
1 Meyer lemon flower bud
In a wine glass filled with ice combine Limoncello and ginger beer and stir. Top with prosecco and garnish with lemon wheel and flower bud.
“Limoncello mainly comes from the southern part of Italy (where our family is from) so this cocktail is a homage to our roots” says Felicia Ferguson. “We always use Meyer lemons which are the best lemons to use because they are sweeter than normal lemons and their peels give off a great bright color.”
The Limoncello Spritz is available for a limited time as a $13 ToGo cocktail from Piazza D’Angelo.