Snail farms on the rise in Britain as snail meat - and their 'earthy, salty' eggs - become latest low fat food trend
Aylesbury Escargot, Bucks, has added a 1,000sq ft field to meet demands
These 'free range' snails will increase supplies by up to three times
Farm currently has about half a million snails
Farm also supplies snail caviar or 'Escargot Pearls'
Snail eggs have a 'ferny, earthy, salty' flavour and cost £90 for 75g
The snails have a daily shower via a sprinkler system and dine on biscuits as well as leafy food
Dubbed 'chicken of the soil' by snail devotees who love its low fat content
Traditionally thought of as continental delicacy particular to France, it seems snails are crawling their way across the channel.
According to food industry sources, Britons are demanding mollusc meat in ever increasing quantities - and British suppliers are struggling to keep up.
Aylesbury Escargot in Buckinghamshire, owned by husband and wife team Sophie and Mike Wharton, have expanded from indoor boxes to a 1,000 square metre field so they can increase supplies by as much as three times to meet demand, with the farm now housing around half a million snails.
The family-run farm supplies both snails and ‘snail caviar’ (the snail’s eggs) to restaurants, brasseries, and retail - not forgetting individual customers for private consumption.
Though the traditional French way to serve escargot is to place them back into their shells after cooking, often marinating them in butter, garlic and parsley, English chefs are increasingly exploring the diversity of the humble snail in modern dishes.
Aylesbury Escargot owner Sophie says the increased demand is due to people being more adventurous and more aware of their diet and what they eat.
‘People are buying tinned snails from abroad because British suppliers just aren’t meeting demands.
‘Snail is a low fat, high protein meat,’ she says, ‘people nowadays are much more focused on their diet and eating healthily.
‘They are also much more aware of how their food is produced and where it comes from.
‘The new outside breeding area allows the snails to thrive as they are in their natural habitat.
‘Our breeding methods are efficient and very sustainable and we are committed to maintaining the highest standards of care from hatch to harvest, keeping us at the forefront of fresh produce supply.’
The farm breeds Aspersa snails, which look very much like a garden snail.
From eggs they are closely monitored until they morph into a tiny snail, at which point they are called hatchlings, taking a further four months to reach maturity.
As well as three indoor breeding buildings, all of which are temperature and humidity controlled to suit the snails, the free range farm now runs from May to October, and will produce a harvest big enough to meet demand until the next harvest.
The free range snails have a daily ‘shower’ via a sprinkler system and enjoy biscuits as well as their natural leafy food.
From hatch to harvest is approximately 16 weeks at the farm.
As snails are nocturnal and sleep during the day, harvesting them is relatively easy as they can simply be picked up.
The snails are then purged to enable them to clear their digestive system - fed only water for three days - and hibernated prior to going out on order.
As for the snail caviar' Sophie says: ‘We have named them 'Escargot Pearls', as they have a pearl-like appearance.
‘You couldn’t compare them to sturgeon caviar as they are not at all fishy in flavour.
‘They have a slightly earthy, ferny taste and are fairly salty.
‘They are luxurious and add a glossy finish to a variety of dishes and also create a great talking point amongst diners,’ Sophie admits.
Sophie is one of the few producers of fresh snail caviar in Europe and like all caviar it is a tedious process to produce and to harvest and process just a few grams is a labour of love.
The Escargot Pearls are supplied in 75 gram jars, and are described as ‘a luxury item with a price tag to match', costing £90 a jar.
The snails themselves are gently braised by Sophie before sale, and alongside the Pearls, can be bought from their website, or at Fortnum & Mason.
This article originally appeared on Daily Mail.