Escargot might never take off in Ireland, but even if it doesn't, there is a vibrant export market ready-made. For one thing, we do have the climate for snail farming. Indeed, who could ask for better? For another, Europe is crying out for snails, as laws against wild picking have accelerated demand for farmed snails. Escargot is hugely popular in France, Italy and many other European countries. It is even gaining a foothold here as restaurants are constantly trying to expand the range of continental dishes on their menus.
But the market for exports is strong. Currently, there is a 17,000 tonne shortfall between production and demand in France and a 23,000 tonne shortfall in Italy, so it is a good time to consider snail farming options.
Eva Milka and her partner Lucas Kurowski are the proud owners of Gaelic Escargot, 'Ireland's first and only Research and Development Centre for the Production of Free-Range Irish Escargot.' Based in Garyhill, Co Carlow, they plan to produce 100 tonnes of live snails for export, per annum. Like many speciality businesses in Ireland, it all began out of an interest that could not be satisfied by Irish producers. Eva explains, “I remember going to France a few years ago where we tried the fresh Escargot for the first time and absolutely loved it. Then we came back to Ireland and discovered that you can't buy fresh product here. So we decided to start breeding them firstly, just to satisfy our own appetites.”
The snails are kept under pallets during the day and come out at night to feed on specially grown greens and grains, a diet formulated to keep their shells strong and help them to grow to a marketable size. Snails are kept at an optimum 400/square metre and when they are ready, they are bagged and packed for live export through a Polish distributor.
Eva has been tweeting this week for @IrelandsFarmers and among the interesting facts she has shared are the following:
- Snail shells are high in calcium and can be used as fertilizer
- Snail mucus is used in the cosmetics industry, both as an ingredient and directly as a beauty treatment as it is rich in collagen and glycolic acid
- Snail Eggs can be used as caviar