GASTRONOMICAL RICHES: SNAILS
In our series of articles dedicated to the products we get from the ground and which represent the unique character of a region or country, today we present: escargots – snails.
When the French ask their European neighbours what they find particularly French about French cuisine – apart from frogs’ legs, that is – many answer: snails. Indeed, although they are found almost all over the world and are recognised not only for their quality of taste but even their nutritional benefits, they are rarely consumed in most other European countries. Even though prejudices are hard to bear, this assumption is not unjustified when it comes to French cuisine.
SNAILS: PICK THEM OR BREED THEM?
With snail consumption estimated to amount to between 30,000 and 40,000 tonnes per year, France is the world’s largest consumer of gastropods. While some of this demand is satisfied by snail harvesting, the vast majority of snails are farmed. So can we ‘pick’ snails when we go mushroom picking? To tell you the truth, it’s not really advisable these days. Even though they tend to have a good reputation in the collective unconscious, it is absolutely essential not to consume snails found in the wild unless you’re an expert. In some cases, they can even carry viruses that are extremely dangerous to humans.
In most cases, however, the majority of risks would be avoided by leaving them to bleed out for a few days. On the other hand, breeding snails – a practice certainly not recorded until relatively recently and in some countries only introduced in recent years – now offers the consumer a convenient way to eat snails without taking any risks. The cultivation, or breeding, of snails is usually carried out in parks with fences to protect them from certain bird species that enjoy feeding on small animals.
The most frequently consumed species is the Burgundy snail (Helix pomatia). As the name suggests, the species originates from Burgundy and seems to have been consumed there since the dawn of time. Despite this, the name is not a registered designation of origin like those used for wine or cheese. The species has since been introduced throughout Europe, and today most Burgundy snails on your plate or at your restaurant come from Poland or Ukraine! Are you surprised? In fact, of the 30,000 tonnes consumed in France, only 1,000 tonnes are supplied by French farms. The reasons for this are essentially economic. Snail imports come mainly from countries where production costs and prices are low. In a country like Ukraine, for example, snail production has exploded exponentially in recent years, from just three tonnes in 2013 to 347 tonnes in 2016.
ARE THERE STILL SNAILS IN THE VINEYARDS OF BURGUNDY?
Traditionally, the Burgundy snail was found in significant numbers in the vineyards of the famous Burgundy wines. Sadly, widespread collection of the snails has endangered the species’ survival, resulting in strict regulation. Don’t worry though; you will still find snails when walking through Burgundy’s vineyard region. The current regulations state that you have the right to collect them if they are for personal consumption. If you fancy collecting snails from Burgundy during the winter months, you can try your luck by defying the cold. If you would prefer a more convenient option, a large number of breeders can also be found online.
For example, in the heart of the Burgundy wine region you will find “L’escargot Bourguignon” in Vernot (https://www.escargot-bourguignon.fr/elevage-escargots.html)