In Italy you often find a group of products stocked next to the cash register that boast of being sold “only in pharmacies [solo in farmacia].” Just like years ago, today this select group never includes normal or everyday candy (in fact, simple chocolate bars are banned). To earn a spot in an Italian pharmacy a candy should really be an old-timer, like the hard milk candies that have been around since the ’50s (Galatine al latte), or they better have nice packaging and claim to be good for your health. At 106 years old the Pastiglie Valda candies meet all of these requirements.
The name Valda is somewhat a mystery. The candies were first produced in France in 1905 thanks to Monsieur Canonne, a pharmacist, and their popularity spread to Italy the following year. For the ad campaign, Canonne invented the character of Dottor Valda, an old and reassuring- looking man who would tell the public that Valda cough drops had cured his sore throat.
The Dottor Valda ads began to appear on trains and in waiting rooms and in a short time they were everywhere, even on match boxes and mail catalogs.
But the name Valda remains an enigma, some believe that Valda is the contraction of the Latin valitudo, (health) and dare (give) or the anagram of Rue de Daval, the Parisian location of the factory where the drops were first made, or it could have been Dr. Canonne’s homage to a Russian girlfriend.
These wholesome cough drops came in a round golden metal box and looked so deliciously pretty that they hardly resembled the more serous throat lozenges. For us children the Pastiglie Valda were a great tasting form of entertainment. You would toss a bunch of them, like 5 or 6, in your mouth, then drink a glass a water right away. When you breathed in after this combination you chest and nose would actually hurt. We called this “la sensazione di ghiaccio” or “the icy sensation.” I used to take the Valda lozenges and, pressing really hard with my fingers, shape them into flowers or long green thumbs. Then I would push them between my index finger and thumb to test their “gumminess.”
Whenever I thought of those cough drops an image of a snowy mountain would spring to mind. Valda’s TV commercial at that time actually featured snowy landscapes where smiling people happily shared a box of pastiglie Valda. The candies resembled mini green pine cones covered in snow because they were sprinkled with sugar and because their menthol and eucalyptus made them small like pine trees and fresh mountain air. Once the packet was empty you could tap the bottom of the box with your finger and pick up the sugary residue down to the very last crystal. After this the box was ready for its second life as a container for paper clips, buttons and other small objects. I bet that almost every Italian family has at least one recycled Valda box at home and I know some people avidly collect them. As the jingle would say “cosi’ piccola, cosi’ grande, Pastiglie Valda!” – “so little, but so big, Valda Pastilles!”