& COOKING ARTICLE
and sculptures of snails everywhere . . .
snail laying its eggs
explains the snail pens
Snail Farm . . . how snails are bred in France
are such a French associated speciality, and are often ordered
from menus by tourists due to the novelty factor. The French
eat them because they can be very tasty and satisfying, but
where do they actually come from?
snails that are eaten in France are not all gathered from
the wild, although a lot are . . . in Greece. Some are bred
on one of France's two hundred snail farms. I visited snail
breeders, Beatrice and Pierre Fouquet, to find out how their
snails come to be.
rung the bell and looked around while we waited. Hiding in
the undergrowth, everywhere we looked, were models and sculptures
of snails in different sizes and styles. A smiling Beatrice
came over to us, and started to show us around. Firstly, she
took us to the breeding room. It was fascinating! We learned
that although snails are hermaphrodites, they need to mate
- for around twelve hours - in order to breed. Their sexual
organs are where you might expect their ears to be, and 3
weeks after mating, they stick their head into a pot of earth,
and spend a further twelve hours laying their one hundred
or so eggs. Another three weeks on and the eggs, rather than
hatching, actually turn into snails.
after a week of snaildom, the babies are taken to the netted,
domed pens, where they will live for around four months, until
they are fully mature adults, ready to be eaten. Radishes
are sown in the pens, and their leaves serve as both food
and hiding places for the snails, and the whole ecosystem
is sprayed with water once a day.
"breed" of snail is the Gros Gris, which originates
in North Africa, and we were surprised at how large they are
- their bodies around three inches long. Their cousins, the
Petit Gris or garden snail, are the wild, native snails which
are gathered and eaten in France and Britain.
snails from L'Escargot du Perigord are sold live to restaurants
and private customers, but 80% are prepared and cooked by
Pierre and Beatrice. This takes a lot of work. The snails
are killed by being plunged into boiling water. (I did ask
Beatrice if that had caused any problems for her. "What
kind of problems?". "Um, worry about being unkind
to the snails". She laughed at my English sensibilities,
and explained that it was very quick, and better than the
slow deaths of the olden days, when snails were smothered
in salt and vinegar and left to ooze to death.
each snail is individually gutted, before being washed in
salt and vinegar, and boiled in stock for an hour and a half.
Some snails go into the Fouquet's pates, preserves, hors d'oeuvres
and tasty re-heatable dishes, while others are stuffed back
into shells and covered with garlic and parsley butter, for
baking in a hot oven until bubbling and browned. Beatrice
and Pierre still eat and taste snails regularly, and Beatrice
favours her preserved "Saute d'Escargots aux Pleurottes",
which is snails in a sauce with mushrooms, creme fraiche and
asked how and why the Fouquets started their snail farm;
started up fifteeen years ago. I am from Paris and Pierre
is from the Charente but we both went to agricultural college
near Perpignan, where we met. After graduating, we found it
hard to find work in that region, and Pierre worked on the
sowing of sunflowers for six years, while I did agricultural
consulting work all over the place. We only saw each other
at weekends. After coming on holiday to Perigord and falling
in love with the area, we decided to settle here, and wanted
to set something up so that we were our own bosses and so
that we could live and work together. We also wanted to do
something a bit unusual. We had the advantage of me coming
into contact with all different kinds of farms through my
work, and we decided on snails."
ultimate rustic French supper - Saute d'Escargots aux
Pleurottes with potato gratin
you still enjoy it?
yes! Everyday is different. And we sometimes forget our mistakes
and make them again, which keeps things interesting! We have
regular customers, we do chambres d'hotes, and we don't answer
to anyone. We wouldn't want to change our lives or work."
Fouquet's customers come from all over France and some order
their snail goodies through the post. Others are regular customers
at the farm shop or the markets in Thiviers (every Saturday
morning) and Branteme (each Tuesday between 15th June and
15th September). The farm also offers visits and tastings
throughout the summer. It is a fantastic place to take children
. . . and grown-ups!
took home a tin of the Saute d'Escargot's aux Pleurottes,
snails with garlic and parsley butter, in pastry shells, and
a snail terrine.
Gemma Driver 2005
article was written by Gemma Driver, a food writer and consultant,
who is passionate about the French way of life and now lives
in the Dordogne after moving to France several years ago.
Gastropod is the home of Gemma Driver on the internet. Stuffed
with foodie advice, lush photos, intriguing projects and addictive
articles, this slick site will have your brain inspired and
your mouth watering - www.gastropod.co.uk
article first appeared on the web site
18 May 2005
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