Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. Although the labels on bottles and tins say fondata nel 1621 (“founded in 1621”), the Officina was actually established by Dominican monks in 1221 – 1621 was the year when it was opened to the public. It sells handcrafted colognes, perfumes, candles, soaps, lotions as well as herbal teas, candies, and liqueurs, all beautifully wrapped in pale colored boxes.
Located on Via della Scala, the Officina is not just a store, but also a museum that is worth visiting. The ceilings are adorned with beautiful frescoes and stucco decorations from the 15th century. The wooden cabinets where herbs are stored are original 18th century pieces.
When I stop at the Officina, I always take time to admire the bottles and jars on display in the wooden carved cupboards, and often leave with one of the liqueurs. The packaging of these ancient liquori uses neat, elegant designs that conjure up Renaissance flair.
Liquore Mediceo, which was invented in honor of the Medici family, is my most common choice. It is made from several spices and ten different herbs, including lemon balm and marjoram. It tastes sweet and fresh. I usually serve it alongside panforte and have used it to make custard-based ice-creams tangier.