An heirloom can be defined as an object of importance that is passed down from one generation to another. For some families, this might be an antique engagement ring glowing on grandma’s finger, or maybe a grand piano just waiting to be tuned. It could also be a set of fine china that collects dust in the kitchen cupboard because it’s too pretty to touch. For Sara Pistolesi, professor of chemistry in the US state of Iowa, it’s a limoncello recipe.
Pistolesi, born and raised in Piombino, Italy, a small coastal town near Tuscany, spent her days on the beach – it was just a five-minute walk from her home.
“It was an outdoor life,” said Pistolesi. “It wasn’t just me, it was the culture of everyone in my city.” The sea is part of your life. “
Pistolesi grew up as an only child and admired her parents and the interests they instilled in her. She originally wanted to go to school to become an archaeologist and to follow in her family’s footsteps. However, it wasn’t long before she discovered her passion for other sciences.
“In high school, I discovered science and found that I was really good at chemistry and biology,” said Pistolesi. “A year before college, I started exploring different options because I wanted to know what was out there other than what I already knew. I found chemistry really fascinating, especially basic research. “
Pistolesi attended the University of Siena to study chemistry and defined her studies as “love at first sight”. There she completed her studies with a master’s degree in chemistry and a doctorate in chemical sciences. In the final year of her PhD, Pistolesi spent some time at the Wisconsin Medical College in Milwaukee.
Shortly after graduation, Pistolesi and her husband embarked on their next adventure – a postdoctoral position at the National Institute of Health in Washington, DC. When they finished their time there, her husband decided on a professorship, which she landed in Ames. Iowa, in the Iowa State Chemistry Department. Pistolesi later also joined the department as a general chemistry laboratory instructor. It was in Ames that their family recipe was discovered.
Limoncello comes from southern Italy and is served as a traditional Italian liqueur. Bottles can be found on dining tables in the area, often served as an aperitif (before a meal to whet the appetite) or as a digestif (after a meal to aid digestion). For Pistolesi, this tradition is a staple food for families. Originally her grandmother’s, this recipe has been passed on from generation to generation.
Pistolesi shares her grandmother’s recipe for limoncello with Iowa.
“Literally every family in Italy made their own limoncello at home, and my family was no different,” said Pistolesi. “My recipe can only be found in my house – and now in the bottle.”
Pistolesi began perfecting her craft when she was around 19 years old and in college. The legal drinking age in Italy is 18 years. When she moved to Ames, the former owner of the local Italian restaurant Ames +39 discovered her skills.
“[Alessandro Andreoni] I went to my house for dinner and put the bottle on the table, “said Pistolesi.” He and his wife loved it. They asked me to borrow my recipe so they could make it at the restaurant and give it to customers for free, and we found that customers loved it. ”
And that’s how it started. Pistolesi’s grandmother’s recipe, now known as IA-Native Spirits and now known as Lemoncello 50010, is available from retailers across the state of Iowa and is expanding daily. Pistolesi, along with her two partners Andreoni and David Sarrell, run the company and are working to spread the word across Iowa.
Lemoncello 50010 stands out among most other limoncello brands for its suppleness and natural richness in taste, color and smell.
“The peel of the lemon is really rich in essential oils,” said Pistolesi. “That not only gives the color, but also the lemon taste. If your product contains a lot of essential oils, these mask the hardness of the alcohol.”
Pistolesi’s chemical background and passion for the Italian lemon liqueur work together seamlessly, especially when it comes to mass production.
“Lemoncello” and limoncello are traditional Italian liqueurs that are often served before or after dinner.
“There’s a big difference between making something at home on a small scale and making it for mass production on a large scale,” Pistolesi said. “The chemistry is basically the same, but in reality there are so many other things you need to consider. Knowing the chemical principles behind making the liquor helped me a lot when we needed to scale the distillery so I could avoid some potential problems we might have. “
Next time you’re throwing a dinner party or need a good pairing with pasta, get yourself a bottle of Lemoncello 50010. You may get a glimpse of the family dinner on a typical evening in southern Italy.
“It’s more than a business because it’s part of my family tradition,” said Pistolesi.
For more information and retail locations, see the IA Native Spirits website.
* For 21 and older.