When California gives you lemons... make Ventura Limoncello! Here's how Manuela Zaretti and James Carling turned a family tradition into award-winning liquors

If you’ve ever driven through Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles, you must have noticed those gorgeous lemon groves. Maybe you thought of picking a few lemons to make lemonade. As any self-respecting Italian, I immediately thought of something else: limoncello.

A similar intuition brought Ventura Limoncello to life. The two founders, Manuela Zaretti and James Carling, were first inspired by Manuela’s mom, Rosanna. Using the lemons from the tree in their garden, she made the first batch of limoncello following a family recipe.

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Ventura Limoncello co-owners

James Carling and Manuela Zaretti of Ventura Limoncello

Over time, limoncello became a family tradition, as often is back in Italy (disclosure: my aunt makes a pretty good limoncello herself). They would serve it to neighbors and friends, and guess what, people loved it and asked for more!

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Seeing a business opportunity, James decided to leave his corporate career behind and get serious with limoncello. His wife Manuela had some doubts – the competition from Italian imports is fierce – but eventually agreed. After all, getting the main ingredient was not a problem, as Ventura County alone produces 80% of US lemons!

Lemons at Ventura Limoncello

It all starts from here

Ventura Limoncello: It all starts with the lemons… duh!

Speaking of lemons, if you’ve ever been to Amalfi Coast, you may be familiar with the local lemon variety (if you haven’t been, go book your flight!). Amalfi Coast lemons are bigger than standard supermarket ones and have a very thick skin.

“The limoncello flavor comes from the lemon peel,” says James. Thanks to such high-quality fruits, limoncello from Amalfi Coast enjoys a high reputation in Italy and abroad.

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As it turns out, Ventura lemons are quite as good. They are large enough and also have a thick and oily skin. On top of that, local growers provide Ventura Limoncello with lemons of the right size, color, and ripeness. And because lemons are produced all year round, they can always make fresh limoncello.

Ventura Limoncello: Peeling Lemons

You only need the peel…

When it comes to processing lemons, Ventura Limoncello works pretty much like James’s mother-in-law used to do (or my aunt, for that matter). “Well, we used to hand-wash the lemons, but with these quantities, we had to switch to machine-washing,” say James and Manuela. “More importantly, we have them hand-peeled, exactly like we used to do back home.”

Sounds like a lot of work, right? It sure is, but it makes the difference between artisanal limoncello and industrial ones, including many of the imported brands. Remember, you only want the lemon peel for limoncello!

“Machines can’t tell the difference between pith and peel, hands can,” James explains. Because pith ends up in the mixture, industrial producers tend to introduce artificial colors and/or flavors to correct for bitterness”. Not at Ventura Limoncello though!

Ventura Limoncello: lemons are ready to go

Lemonade anyone?

Within minutes, the peels are transferred into alcohol tanks. Using a high-proof, neutral spirit from Kentucky, they make sure that absolutely no flavor is added during the maceration process.

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When maceration stops, they blend sugar cane syrup with the alcohol. After sitting in the tank for a little longer, the liquid gets filtered and bottled. And here’s your limoncello!

The production of Ventura Limoncello

Lemons – Lemon peel – Limoncello. It’s that simple!

Limoncello and its brothers

Ventura Limoncello, however, doesn’t stop at its namesake product. For their Orangecello, they take blood oranges, when in season, and process them in a similar way. The Limoncello Crema, instead, is a smooth concoction of limoncello and whole milk cream – seriously addictive!

I’ve always suspected that women have a more developed sense of taste than men. Case in point: At Ventura Limoncello, it is Manuela that develops and tests new recipes. After all, there are more herbs and fruits waiting to be turned into alcoholic beverages… So expect new products to hit the shelves soon!

In the meanwhile, follow James’s advice and use limoncello in your cocktails, as an alternative to Triple Sec or Grand Marnier. Here are some recipes for you. Salute!


Ventura Limoncello
2646 Palma Dr. Ste 160

Ventura, CA 93003
tone: (805) 658 0881

Photos by Raffaele Asquer and Mischa Rajendiran for Foodiamo. All rights reserved

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