Tag Archives: food

Lemoncello Brain Dump

After a few questions about the not-so-fine art of homemade liquors, here is a quickie brain dump on the ubiquitous and simple Lemoncello:

First, it is not rocket science. Extract citrus zest with vodka, sweeten with simple syrup. Ballgame. There are some fine points that can help with the appearance, color, and depth of flavor, but you could read that sentence and make a good Lemoncello.

I live in an area with no indigenous lemons and no indigenous neutral spirits, hence, my approach is based on the ready supply of imported lemons and commodity hooch. Good lemons should smell like a lemon. Easier said than done in New England. But never fear, look at places selling quality produce and take your chances. Even average lemons get the job done. Any mid-grade vodka will do. Nothing too cheap or too fine.

I have used grain/everclear and the results were drinkable but I found that the high proof spirits extracted too much oil. It works, and the end product is much stronger. Proceed as you wish. I have toyed with using Grappa… I will report back if I dare go down that rabbit hole.

Zest, not peel, 6-12 lemons. Zest means not taking the white pith away with the peel. Don’t stress, just use a sharp peeler and try to avoid too much pith. It is easier than it sounds. Too many lemons is waste unless you are heading towards a 2L+ extraction.

Add zest to a half-gallon widemouth jar and top with 750ml to 1.5L Vodka. The proportions are not super-critical, but you will end up with almost twice this volume of finished Limoncello (this is a good case for starting small and scaling up). Cover and allow this to extract for at least 2-3 days, and a week is a good target. A funnel with a piece of cheesecloth will help you make a clean transfer to a mixing vessel. You can also transfer to a bowl, clean the jar, and then transfer it back for mixing (my preference).

Ahead of the transfer, make a batch of simple syrup. 1:1 water and sugar heated to dissolve, short simmer is ok. Don’t boil. You are not making candy. Cool syrup.

Now comes the part that will help you zero-in on the character of the finished product: Start at 1 part syrup to 2 parts vodka extract. If you used a 750ml bottle of vodka, start with no more than 400ml of syrup. Mix well. Let it stand. Mix again (agitating the bottle us fine). Using that big widemouth jug makes this easier.

Taste and assess. You can always add more syrup if it is a little too astringent. Also, you will have a less dilute product by starting on the low end of sweetness and working up if necessary. Viola! You have a house-made liquor to amaze your friends.

Variations: Oranges and limes work very well. My kumquat experiment, not so much. Live in a climate with local citrus? Use that. This technique is applicable to a variety of flavors. I am partial to citrus, but you can experiment and find a cool variation. Pawpawcello might be good. You tell me. I will take your word for it.

Rochefort Festival Wrap Up – 4

Festival Preparation

Monday was travel day to get from the wilds of Picardie to the Atlantic coast and Rochefort.  The drive was uneventful, with the understanding that it was a groggy entourage operating on not much sleep.  Getting the vehicles packed was the first hurdle, then getting to Nicolas’ place for the meetup, and then hitting the road.  We had a little downtime while Charly looked for his vehicle reg and insurance.  Not hard to believe that official papers aren’t the primary concern of Charly 🙂  And with that we were off on a convoy, of sorts.  The trip involved heading back toward Paris in order to catch the main highway out to the west.  A few rest stops were in order, for coffee, a quick nap, and a snack.  Some of the rest stop concessions bear the name “Flunch”… which may be appetizing in French, but made me think of some euphemism for projectile vomiting.  “Dude, I totally flunched that pasta salad after I chugged all that Mountain Dew!”

The first four hours or so involved me riding shotgun in Charly’s Camaro, which is a noble ride.  Also, it is always sending heat to warm you up, which would be fine in October but not so much in August.  But we cranked some tunes and talked music… and the battery in Charly’s phone died… d’oh.  We switched up at a rest area so Owen could handle communications on his phone, and I rode with Nicolas and Napoleon in Nicolas’ BMW wagon.  Nicolas was truly spent, after all the trips to CDG on Saturday, and then a super long day on Sunday, so I drove for an hour or so while he zonked out in the back seat.  I love driving in Europe, so that was a nice surprise for me.  Nicolas handled the last hour or so once we left the highway.  After about 6 hours of driving, in the European manner, with plenty of rest stops, we rolled into Rochefort.

The festival site centered around “the Clos”, a large industrial space with a walled field facing the marina.  That was home base for the week, and a space that I took to calling “the dungeon” in reference to Zappa’s “The Torture never Stops”.  It was not the prettiest, or the best decor, but it was a great place to rehearse, practice, eat, and hang out.  Having that kind of central area was probably the thing that allowed whatever organization that did happen, to happen.  There I met the people I would be relying on for the week.  Philippe, the festival head-honcho and the guy with the most headaches at every moment of the week.  Elodie, the organizational maestro.  Benoit, the “fixer”.  Fanny, the “enforcer” (which is humorous, because every time she was thinking I was late for something I would appear, on time and ready to work).  Christian, the photographer.  Gilles, the head of the Capitanerie, and his first mate Christian.  Domenique, the driver, had been out to Louatre to drive people and gear back, and he was also the last person from the festival I would see before I left France.  Jean Francois, who was helping in some capacity but I know him mainly because he is learning accordion and I may have helped him with some timing concepts.

There was also a cast of other volunteers doing everything from cooking, driving, lugging equipment, and then the stage crew…. I only met Jan and Pierre, but the entire crew was professional and able.  More on that soon.

The first order of business was food, and the food at Rochefort en Accords was singularly the best event catering I have ever experienced.  Not that it was fancy or expensive, but it was like home-cooking at every meal.  Being lactose-intolerant can often mean having only a few choices in food, and often not good ones.  That was never an issue.  Every meal had fresh vegetables, salads, charcuterie, meats, and desserts.  I had to avoid some things like the lasagne with gruyere, or the quiche-like terrines studded with fresh cheese.  Oh, and no croissant!  That was the worst kind of “pain”…  As well, the cheese plates were amazing but I couldn’t take chances with my “availability”.  Did I mention the oysters (huitres)?  The local oyster has a deep rounded shell, a sweet and smallish meat, and an intense briny liquor.  They were brilliant!  No, not the same as anything here in the northeast, but fantastic and fresh.  I can only imagine how there are in the colder season when they would be tighter and crisper.

A quick list of what I remember (missing some things that I didn’t eat and didn’t pay enough attention to)  from the buffet: tomato-cuke salad with a variety of tomatoes that we would call “heirloom” but they just call tomato, celery root vinagrette like a fresh slaw, green salad with the sweetest greens I have had ever, cous cous, lentils with sausage, fromage de tete (possible pate de tete) in many forms and all delicious, hard boiled eggs to go with the terrine, other cured sausage products, andouilette (fresh pork sausage), boudin noir, a Choucroute de la Mare (which I am stealing and making here), lamb stew with mushroom, beef stew, several kinds of cooked beans with garlic and small amounts of meat, grilled sliced beef loin, oysters, steamed mussels, a paella type dish with chicken and seafood, terrines and quiche-like dishes with meat and vegetables, apple tarts, chocolate cake…. and always bread, always wine, always coffee, and also a local fortified sweet wine “pineau” which reminded me of vin santo but is made with cognac.  Oh, and two types of cognac: one younger and sweeter with a very fruit (apple and pear) nose, and one aged and more familiar to me.  The word is that the French export most of their cognac, the Japanese are the major consumers.  That said, the cognac that we had was very good, and if that is what stays and what is available locally, it could be a lot worse.

And as over the top as that sounds, it was just solid homestyle food.  Considering the workload and the stresses and ambition of the festival and the musicians, it was this kind of support that really made the work possible.  The constant support of the volunteers, the positive attitudes, the healthy food, the occasional glass of wine or spot of coffee at the moment when it was needed most….  those things made it easy to commit to large amounts of work over long hours, and get up and do it again each day.