Limoncello: Business, Communication and Biology

IMG_0150Limoncello: How we can talk about Business, Communication, and  Biology at the same time.

On May 29th we had the opportunity to visit the local Limoncello factory, called I Gardini di Gataldo, where we discovered some of the secrets and tricks in the process crafting one of the typical and most recognized drinks of the of the region of Campania. Also known as the Gold of Sorrento, the Limoncello is used for multiple occasions, but it is mainly served-cold as a digestive right after meals. Traditionally, it is made from the peels of Sorrento Lemons, which are mixed with pure grain alcohol (absolute ethanol) at first. The resultant yellow liquid is extracted and mixed with sugar and water, which will eventually turn into the enjoyable liqueur just after sitting in for a few days. For more information on the making Limoncello, please visit the following link:

The best Limoncello is produced in Sorrento and surrounding areas such as Capri and the Amalfi Coast; its citizens take pride in fact that no other place in the world has the right conditions to harvests the same quality lemons needed to make the best Limoncello. In the last two decades the liqueur has become the second most famous drink in Italy, with a rising popularity worldwide. For this reason, the production of Limoncello has become the prime revenue for many locals in the area.Limoncello is mass produced all-throughout the region of Campania by various private factories. I Gardini di Gataldo is a relatively small factory owned by the city of Sorrento that still produces Limoncello manually as a means for public demonstrations.   Now, in order to help local producers raise production of Limoncello, the Italian government gave liqueur an IGT (indication of typical geography) certification. This law endorses that the liqueur is authentic and of high quality, and it also penalizes the mass production and sale of imitations outside of the region of Campania.


While in the tour, someone brought up an inquiry about the origin of Limoncello. Of course, our tour guide said that it originated in Sorrento, but the truth is that there is an ongoing debate regarding the birth place of Limoncello. Although, the search is narrowed to Capri, Amalfi, and Sorrento there is still no concrete evidence as to which city deserves the credit for creating the liqueur. For this reason, all three cities are at an ongoing competition to see which one produces the best quality goods, which has also led to the innovative production of gelatos, cakes, laxatives, etc. I found this to be quite extraordinary because this competitive behavior deviates from the collective ideals of Italian society. Originally, we had concluded in class discussion that Italians took pride in helping members of the larger group to be successful, believing that the group is always greater than the sum of individuals that constitute it. Hence, this example of individualistic behavior comes to show that no society has perfectly skewed view on groups focus, but a little more of a mixed perspective between the two.

Richard 3

I Gardini di Gataldo

Right at the end of tour around I Gardini di Gataldo we came across something that completely caught my attention. In the middle of the factory’s garden there were lemon trees that had been grafted with orange-tree branches. Grafting is the horticultural technique of joining two pieces of living plant tissue together in such a manner that they will unite and subsequently grow and develop as one composite plant. Although this technique has been practiced since ancient times, it is very difficult and tends to be costly. For starters, it can only be done for angiosperms and gymnosperms (seeding plants) and the joining pair of species needs to at least fall within the same family in order form a permanent junction between the two. Grafting needs to take into account the genetic similarity between the joining species. In the cases of oranges and lemons, they both fall under the same genus (Citrus.), which means that they are related close enough to allow for grafting between each other. Moreover, there are many potential issues may come across while grafting the plants, as well post-surgical compilations that make cause the junction to break. Hence, mastering this technique is not a small feat, and those who perform it requires years of experience on field before they can become successful.



Carmela- Our Limoncello Factory Tour Guide

While talking to some of the staff, I was able to obtain some juicy information regarding their grafting techniques. I Gardini di Gataldo grafts their trees via budding techniques, which uses a smaller scion piece—sometimes just a piece of the stem with an auxiliary bud. The scion becomes the new shoot system of the graft. In their case, the factory staff inserts lemon buds into the shoot of an orange tree; the lemon bud is the scion and will become the majority of plant’s shoot. On the other hand, the oranges will become the composite plant’s root system. The reason this is done is because orange trees are more resistant to variations in the soil’s chemistry, allowing for an increase in the number lemons harvested in year, which simultaneously helps increase revenue. The grafting is Citrus trees is actually a very quiet successful technique, and the main post-surgical complication that may arrive from the process is that the lemon-scion may die if the sap it receives from Orange’s root-system is too acidic. I found this information quite surprising because instead of using grafting as way to show off an ability to perform sophisticated horticulture techniques, as I had previously assumed, the people of Sorrento use it as a means to increase the production of their main revenue, the Limoncello.

It is surprising to see how many variables come together to shape our knowledge about a simple alcoholic beverage. Limoncello will no longer be mere laxative that one drinks after dinner, but a rich piece of Italian history and culture, which needs to be analyzed from multiple points of view in order to see how it has been integrated into Italian society.


About the Author:

My name is Richard Rodriguez, and I’m currently a junior at the University of Colorado Denver. I’m pursuing a double-major in Biology and French with minors in Chemistry and Sociology in hopes enter a medical school in the near future. My life-long interests in science as well as my involvement in community service and clinical activities have guided me to pursue a career in healthcare. Medicine allows me to incorporate my love for service and my fascination for science, and build up a successful career that will allow me to improve the lives of people in my community. As part of my path of to becoming a physician I first need to obtain my bachelor’s degree, and one of the requirements for it is to obtain to take an international perspective class. Now this requirement can be fulfilled in two ways, but the most appealing one to me was to participate in a study-abroad program. Moreover, this short-term program allowed me to enjoy this study-abroad experience without interfering too much with my rigorous life as a pre-health student. My experience in Italy was terrific and I’m glad that I took this rare opportunity travel. After I start medical school chances like this one may become very slim to the point where I may not be able to do something similar until I become a practicing physician.


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