The captivating story of a few grains of wheat found in an Egyptian pyramid, sown in Italy, and
cultivated to revive an ancient variety.

Paride Allegri (born 1920) welcomes us with a slight limp from a fall that fractured his femur. While his

wife Linda prepares some tea, Paride launches straight in to his story of how he came into possession
of several precious grains of wheat from an ancient Egyptian tomb.

The year is 1974, in Treviso, where a meeting is being held between biodynamic farmers and
anthroposophists. Among them is Ivo Beni, then President of the Italian Biodynamic Association.

There, an attendee hands Paride a small bag containing grains found in an Egyptian tomb. It is almost
like a ritual: Paride Allegri concentrates on the mandate he is about to receive and forgets to ask either

the name of the mysterious archaeologist or the place from which the precious spoils arrive.
At that time, he is head gardener of the City of Reggio Emilia, with a penchant for biodynamic practices

since 1960, much like Ivo Totti. The following year, he sows the grain, planting a support for each seed,
in order to better follow the birth and growth of each shoot.

An archaeologist without a name
The grains sprout, and when the ears are tall, our gardener sets up a protection along the walls of

the greenhouse to shelter the wheat from being lodged. For months, Paride looks after that precious
greenhouse day after day, until one day he notices that an ear is missing. The next day two more have

disappeared. Twenty-four hours later, the mystery is solved when, sneaking into the greenhouse in
the early morning, he catches sight of a mouse, fleeing with an ear in its mouth. After several years of
cultivation, thanks to his ceaseless care and attention, Paride succeeds in scraping together a few kilos
of the precious grain. Our gardener feels he has accomplished his mission and entrusts the treasure to
Ivo Totti, with the instruction to deliver it to a good farmer. And so, we came into possession of a kilo of
ancient Egyptian grain and a very precise mandate passed from the mysterious archaeologist to Paride
Allegri: “If you one day succeed in multiplying this wheat and choose to cultivate it, give it the name of
my daughter Graziella, who died before her time”. Here, Paride’s story ends, and ours begins.
Twenty-five years in the making
Our first harvest is in 1980, out of that kilo we obtain 10 kilos, and the next year a total of twelve
sheaves, six of which we send to the “La Terra e il Cielo” cooperative, and six of which we store
beneath an open barn at the Monastery of Montebello, with the intent of separating out the seeds in the
winter. When we find the time to work the sheaves, we discover that pigeons have picked them clean:
not even a single grain remains. However reluctantly, we consider the matter closed.
Several years pass, and in the meantime, Bruno Sebastianelli of “La Terra e il Cielo”, has had more
luck than us: he has succeeded in bringing the seeds he received to fruition and begins large-scale
cultivation of the grain, ultimately making it into a pasta. But the product isn’t adequately appreciated,
and after a few years, the production comes to an end.
Having caught wind of his decision to stop farming that ancient Egyptian grain, I stepped forward and

asked Bruno if he would return some of those seeds to me, to try my hand once again at farming them.
A sackful is delivered to us, but after a closer look, we realize the wheat grains are mixed with barley.

It is September 2000; thirty of us gather around a table to separate the precious caryopses of the
ancient Egyptian grain from the rest. After a long job of careful screening, out of that whole sack we

manage to glean just a kilo and a half of grains. From that year onward, we begin to multiply the seeds,
without forgetting that mandate, received twenty-five years earlier, to name them “Graziella”.
In search of an identity
We wanted to give the wheat a surname, too, and not knowing its real one, we choose Ankh, the
Egyptian hieroglyph for life, represented by a sort of cross with a loop on its upper arm.
We ask a patent office to register the name, but unfortunately in Austria and Australia, “Graziella Ankh”
trademarks already exist. To avoid entering into a legal argument already underway, we decide to find

a new “surname”. In the end, we choose the sun god: “Ra”. In 2004, we already have enough Graziella
Ra wheat to launch the production of “Fili di paprio” (Threads of Papyrus, the name of our spaghetti)
and “Farfalle della regina del Nilo” (Butterflies of the Queen of the Nile).
The story of our Egyptian wheat doesn’t end here. On 18th September 2004, I read an article by Aldo
Cazzullo in the “Corriere della Sera” that makes me leap out of my chair: “Graziella, the forgotten
martyr. After 60 years, a ceremony for the girl. Killed by Nazis at seventeen years old”. The article tells
the story of an event that took place on 21st September 1944 in Le Piastre, ten kilometres from Pistoia
on the road to Abetone. It was impossible not to link it to the daughter of the archaeologist who gave us
the grains of Egyptian wheat.
Tuesday, 4th July 2006, I arrive in Le Piastre. In the town park, a modest sculpture between three rose
bushes recounts: “To Graziella Fanti, senselessly killed by the Nazis, and to all innocent victims”. In the
restaurant “Amalfi”, Giancarlo Corsini provides us with a few details about the assassination of Graziella
and that tragic day in September 1944. Most importantly, he introduces us to Giorgio Fanti, born in
1926, and cousin to Graziella. We go with him to the cemetery, to the tomb of his unlucky cousin, and
then to his home, passing by the point at which the Gambioni moat (now dry) flowed into the Reno, and
he showed us where the girl lived with her mother Bruna and her mother’s companion, in a thatched
wooden hut. Giorgio Fanti’s wife tells us the story of that day. The Germans shot her because they
thought that she carried food for the insurgents in her laundry basket. Bruna heard the shots ring out
and her heart stopped; her companion Guido Begliomini heard Graziella’s cries, “Mother, mother!”; and
the patrol, passing by with their submachine guns levelled, mocked her, repeating the girl’s cries of pain
like imbeciles. Poor Bruna had found herself pregnant at twenty years of age while she was in service
in Pistoia. How many sleepless nights she must have passed, asking herself how she would manage
alone with the child on its way. Our search for the mysterious father continues: we want to discover his
name and where this wheat comes from, with its primordial power, measuring thirty centimetres from
ear to awn and named Graziella, as we were instructed to do and as per tradition we respect.
A wheat with ancient origins, Graziella Ra is a durum wheat which has anonymously survived the
centuries. As to its species and genus, there is a general agreement that it belongs to the “Triticum”
genus and the “Turgidum” species. The disagreement arises with regards to its subspecies; in fact,
there are those who sustain that it belongs to the “Polonicum”, others to the “Turanicum”, and others
still to the “Durum” subspecies. What’s certain is that it is a type of durum wheat. Analyses performed
by the Department of Food Biotechnology of the University of Urbino have shown that it is especially
rich in protein, dietary minerals (in particular, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium), and
vitamins (E, B6, B12, PP).