- 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
10:13 EST, 9 October 2013
12:20 EST, 9 October 2013
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.
Sophie Wharton at the Aylesbury Escargot farm she owns and runs with her husband Mike
The new ‘free range’ fields will increase the snail harvest of the farm by up to three times to meet the growing UK demand
The farm has around half a million snails on it in both the indoor and outdoor pens
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.
Snails breeding: The farm allows the snails to breed naturally by just placing them together
The farm is run by Sophie and her husband Mike (left) but their grand-daughter sometimes helps out with the harvest (right)
‘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.
Snail caviar or ‘Escargot Pearls’ are the eggs snail lay and bury in the soil and are said to have a ‘ferny’ salty taste
Sophie cleans and prepares the eggs (left) which are sold in 75 gram jars, costing £90 (right)
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.
‘Escargot Pearls‘: What is snail caviar?
Snails lay around 100 eggs in each brood and bury them in the loose top soil
Snails’ Eggs, Apple and Beetroot Blinis
By Sophie Wharton. Makes 24
8g fresh yeast
75g buckwheat flour
50g plain flour
1 egg yolk
150g egg white
1 small baked beetroot, finely diced
1 small Granny Smith apple, finely diced
25g escargot pearls
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 tablespoon vinaigrette
Maldon sea salt to taste
Mix all blini ingredients together with a whisk and leave covered in the fridge overnight. Spoon small dots of the batter into a medium-hot frying pan with a tiny bit of oil, cook until golden on both sides.
Mix salad ingredients (apart from pearls) together and spoon a generous helping onto a blini. Top with a few pearls.
Most land snails are hermaphrodites with a full set of reproductive organs of both sexes, meaning they can all mate with any snail, and are prolific breeders.
Each fertilisation usually results in a brood of about 100 eggs which are buried in the topsoil, and will hatch, if not harvested, after 2-4 weeks.
Aylesbury Escargot owners Sophie and her husband Mike collect the eggs from the soil and carefully clean them.
Sophie uses a fine-tipped paintbrush and magnifier to select the best ones, then cures them so they can be eaten raw.
The white luminous eggs range in diameter from 3-6mm and are sold in 75 gram jars, for £90.
These tiny eggs, which have a mineral
finish can be marinated in herbs – the have a delicate taste.
past they have been known as Pearls of Aphrodite’ for their supposed aphrodisiac quality.
Escargot Pearls marry up beautifully with Beetroot, Black Pudding, beef and many other protein dishes.
They are also often used in canapes and as a garnish.
Look out for the Femail taste test of the Escargot Pearls – coming soon!
The eggs, which have a ‘woody’ salty flavour and have been known to have aphrodisiac qualities, are increasingly being used in restaurants as a garnish and to add a unique flavour