Escargot Farming, or Heliciculture
By Rick Gush, Urban Farm contributor
Friday, September 14, 2012
Photo by Rick Gush
These snails have been farmed specifically for escargot.
A couple of times, back when I was in college, my friends and I collected a big mass of common brown garden snails, threw them into an empty, plastic garbage can with a head of shredded lettuce, kept them in the garbage can for about a day and a half, and then took all of the snails out and boiled them. Once we boiled them, we pulled the snails out of the shells with a toothpick, cut off the funky dark bits, and then put them all in a heated pan with butter and garlic. Then we cleaned up the shells and re-stuffed the snails back into the shells. Served with a bit of finely chopped parsley and some soft French bread to dip in the garlic-butter sauce, and red wine to wash it all down, the snails were scrumptious.
I wanted to make escargot again a few years ago, but my wife has a negative reaction toward me eating any garlic, so I haven’t again cooked snails. But, if there are any readers out there privileged enough to be able to eat garlic, I highly suggest you try making homemade escargot.
To all the small farmers out there, I’ll suggest that snails are strong products with a reasonably simple production process, and a future that will undoubtedly see a continual rise in their consumption.
I will admit that I am sort of a snail "racist.” I don’t think that we should be capturing wild ocean snails to eat, but I do think garden snails, and cultivated specialty escargot snail types, both marine and land-based, are some of the most appropriate crops that we as humans should be eating. Today’s photo shows a bag of marine snails, one of the harvested wild crops of which I am morally suspicious.
When I ride the train between Milan, Italy, and the coast, we pass a half-dozen little snail-farming operations that I can see clearly through the window. They are all a series of long, rectangular beds edged with vertical, woven, black cloth about 2 1/2 feet high. Each of the operations has about two-dozen beds that are about 3 feet wide and 25 feet long. The snails fed a mixture of natural vegetation grown inside the pens and various grain meals regularly. Most of the production goes to customers in Germany, which is common thing here in the north. I have a friend whose family grows a lot of special rice near Milan, and their entire crop goes up to Germany.
Growing snails is a fairly simple process. Constructing a pen where you can harvest the snails easily and that they cannot escape from is key. They need moist conditions, and if growers are hoping to sell their product, they should probably grow the famous escargot snail Helix pomatia; these are the biggest snail widely cultivated. But, there are a lot of growers who produce garden snails, also known as Helix aspersa. Of course, there are also a number of other snail types which are starting to see an increase in cultivation.
It’s an expanding time in the world of heliciculture (snail farming)!
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