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Snails: It’s What’s for Dinner

Learn what it takes for basic heliciculture, or snail cultivation, from a farmer raising escargot on his snailery and blazing a snail trail in American food culture.

| December 2019/January 2020

snail 

What’s slow and slimy, carries its home wherever it goes, and is one of the most unwelcome visitors for gardeners and orchardists across nearly all Zones?

If your mind conjured up the whorled, golden-brown shell pattern of the common garden snail, you’re correct, and likely among the many growers who annually ponder how to rid their plots of this damaging pest. The common garden snail (Cornu aspersum) makes a home outside its shell among a wide range of host plants, including numerous fruit trees, vegetable crops, garden flowers, rosebushes, and rotting scraps.

Rather than spend his time expelling snails from his property, one Washington farmer has spent the past decade perfecting the conditions under which C. aspersum thrive so he can cultivate them for culinary use. Ric Brewer is the owner-operator of Little Gray Farms, one of the only escargotières, or “snaileries,” approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). On his property near the Olympic Mountains, Brewer works in the vanguard of this country’s snail cultivation, supplying a growing market for domestic escargot that, until recently, relied solely on European imports.



All Hail Snails

escargot

Little Gray Farms is named for the petit gris, or “little gray,” garden snail, which is one of four snail species that dominate the culinary world. Besides finding homes in fields across much of the United States and Canada, the little gray snail appears on European menus alongside its cousin Helix pomatia, more commonly referred to as “escargot.” Another cousin, the gros gris, is the larger domesticated snail most often canned in Europe for export to gourmet food shops around the world.



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