It's not difficult to make your own limoncello, as Ventura Limoncello's husband-and-wife owners James and Manuela Carling are quick to point out. But if you proclaim yours — and please, not Danny DeVito's eponymous version — the best in SoCal, we will declare you one shot over the cuckoo's nest. Ventura Limoncello's version is the sort of mesmerizing elixir that startles on the first sip, like a liquid lemon curd, and then beautifully mellows. What makes this simple combination of lemon peels, sugar and alcohol so great is not the ingredients, though James Carling turned to small Ventura farmers to resolve his lemon-peel issues (lemons intended for juicing are too ripe to yield limoncello-worthy oily skin). The secret here is simple: James is not permitted to assist on the production side of his business. Manuela and her Italian mother, Rosanna Zaretti, are resolutely in charge of peeling hundreds of lemons by hand each week. After infusing the peels in grain alcohol, they add just enough sugar to balance the tart bite. The amount of sugar varies slightly batch by batch, explains Rosanna, adjusting her rhinestone-crusted Chanel eyeglasses. Like an Italian grandmother's Bolognese sauce, the best limoncello should never taste the same twice. Available at well-stocked liquor stores including K&L Wine Merchants, 1400 Vine St., Hlywd. (323) 464-9463, For more locations, go to or call (805) 658-0881.

—Jenn Garbee

LA Weekly