Alchermes arrived in Italy thanks to the Spaniards, who had inherited the recipe from the Arabs. It was in Florence that it began to spread during the reign of the Medici, who deeply appreciated this kind of liqueur. At the time, it was defined as “elixir of life” and it was produced by the nuns of the Order of Santa Maria dei Servi, founded in 1233. When Catherine de’ Medici married in 1533 Henry II of Orléans, King of France, alchermes became to be known beyond the Alps as “liqueur of the Medici.”
With the new century it began to lose its fame, because it was spread that the secret ingredient of alchermes was extracted from an insect, the cochineal, which gave the bright red colour.

The alchermes is composed of pure alcohol, sugar, water, cochineal (whose body is dried and reduced to powder in order to providing a red dye), orange peel, rose water and numerous spices, such as cinnamon, clove, cloves, vanilla, cardamom, anise flowers. The alcohol content is between 21-32%.

The method of preparation is still handcrafted, according to the recipe codified by tradition: the spices are macerated in alcohol to obtain the so-called “dye”, to which distilled rose water, zest of orange juice, sugar and the colourful compound obtained from the cochineal will be added. The whole is stirred and left to age in oak barrels for about six months. After this it will be filtrated and bottled.

According to the customs, classical alchermes has an important use in cooking and confectionery, as a coloring and flavouring elixir. It is used in the preparation of Mortadella of Prato, to add flavor to the peaches of Prato and as a filling for the chocolate roll and many other sweets.