Friday 20 September 2013

French Foodie eats snails: Le Jardin aux Escargots (Le Vigean, France)

What are the French people famous for except being rude and cheating at football? Eating snails or escargots, bien sûr!

When I was a kid I used to eat snails but what I liked most was the garlic butter dripping of the shell onto the escargot dish. I used a little piece of fresh baguette to soak up the butter and it was so delicious! Then as I grew older I stopped eating snails as I found the idea gross.

A few weeks ago while in France, I found out about Le Jardin aux escargots, a snail farm not too far from my parent's house.


Le Jardin aux escargot is located in Le Vigean in the Cantal region. Isabelle and Christophe rear over 300,000 'gros gris' snails in their 1000 square metre farm. Isabelle explained everything, from rearing to selling, she was so welcoming and passionate, even Mr. FFID (who couldn't understand a word) enjoyed the visit.

Snails are nocturnal animals that pretty much sleep all day under these wooden planks that protect them from the wind and keep them in the shade. An irrigation system recreating a fine rain is turned on each evening as snails need humidity to live and they come to life at dawn, when they spend their time eating for eight hours.All around the fence an electric ribbon prevent the snails from escaping but also preventing other animals from getting in.

Isabelle told us a bit about snail's anatomy and and the more she talked, the more I saw the snail as a cute little animal that I couldn't possibly eat.

We learnt about all the stages of snail reproduction. Even though they're hermaphrodites they still need to mate for 12 hours to breed and this happens only once a year! Three weeks later, they lay about 160 eggs each. The eggs turn into a shell and baby snails are independent after a week.

In September, Isabelle and Christophe select 5,000 snails that they think will be good to breeders, they're about 4 months old at this stage. They are placed in a cold room where they hibernate for the winter. The other snails are collected, cleaned,cooked in their laboratory and then sold in their shop or at markets. The snails are placed in the park in May for a new season to start.

After learning about the fascinating world of snail rearing, we sat outside the shop and Isabelle served us a tasting plate and a glass of white wine from the region.

They have great products that are perfect for people like Mr. FFID, tasting snails for the first time. They aren't served in their shells but in a savoury biscuit in the shape of a shell. We had 3 different flavoured stuffings: parsley and garlic butter, Cantal cheese and Bleu d'Auvergne cheese. Those little bites were great because you didn't see the snails and were so full of flavours. I loved all the cheese crust on top, an ideal snack for a French apéritif.

We also had their 'escargotine' which is like a snail terrine flavoured with garlic butter or cheese. It was delicious spread on some rustic toasted bread.

The trick while eating snails is not to otherthink it. If they have been collected when they are four or five months old and cleaned correctly, they're tender and not chewy.

After all, eating snails is pretty tasty, even Mr. FFID was brave enough to try and he liked them. My parents were very proud of him as if it were some kind of rite of passage. Next step, frog legs mon chéri!

If you ever find yourself in the area it's worth stopping by, the visit and tasting cost just €5.50 per person, although I don't think it can be done in English.

Have you ever eaten snails? Would you eat snails or not?

Le Jardin aux Escargots

Isabelle et Christophe Chaumeil


(Route d'Anglards-de-Salers)
15200 Le Vigean