CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Dorset Magazine today CLICK HERE

Dorset Escargot - Taking the gourmet snail trail

PUBLISHED: 16:02 19 February 2010 | UPDATED: 01:01 06 February 2013

Dorset Escargot - Taking the gourmet snail trail

Dorset Escargot - Taking the gourmet snail trail

A Dorset worm farmer has ditch his wrigglers in favour of a real gourmet slow food - snails, Mark Donovan meets the man behind Dorset Escargot

Real Slow Food


Mark Donovan gets on the snail trail of a Dorset farmer who is raising this gourmets gastropod for the table.


Gordon Ramsay is responsible for many things, probably most currently televisions F Word. But even he would be surprised if he knew that he provided the inspiration for a cottage industry near Wimborne in Dorset thats a runaway, or should that be a slither away, success!

Worm farmer Tony Walker and his wife-to-be, Claire, were fascinated by the idea of raising snails for the gourmet food market after watching Gordon Ramsey interview the owner of a Devon snail farm on the F Word. The couple started to investigate how they might add these slimy, antenna-headed creatures, technically known as gastropods, to their farming repertoire. The pair arranged a day out at the snail farm featured on the programme to see how it was done. As a result of their visit, Tony and Claire were convinced they could master the slow art of raising snails for the table.

What we discovered in our initial meeting is that the common or garden snail first introduced by the Romans are simply not right for cooking as they are too small, says Tony. We were advised to source the helix aspersa maxima as the ideal snail for indoor farming and many chefs agree that they offer the best taste.

The initial intention was to run snail production alongside the existing worm farm, which was already successfully supplying fishermen and gardeners. However, it soon became evident that snail farming is a highly labour-intensive process and would require the undivided attention of Tony and Claire.

So, in December 2006, the worm farming business was abandoned to make way for the birth of Dorset Escargot, and in just three years the business has grown into one of the leading fresh snail suppliers in the UK. But it wasnt all plain sailing as Tony explains.

Our first attempt was an unmitigated disaster, he admits. The first batch of a thousand breeding snails were imported from Serbia in December 2006 but sadly they had all died by the following February. Fortunately, Tony was able to salvage some of the eggs and it was these that would form the nucleus of his initial breeding stock. Snails are hermaphrodites, so every snail can lay eggs. However, they need to couple with another snail in order to fertilise each others eggs.
Four years on, Tony and Claire have snail husbandry down to a fine art, producing up to 6,000 snails a week, roughly 3 tonnes a year for the table. The snail farm comprises a huge poly tunnel which is housed inside a 4,000 sq ft farm building.

The snail eggs are laid in nests, with around 100 eggs to each. They resemble miniature ping-pong balls and are opaque white in colour, explains Tony. They take three weeks to hatch. The baby snails are put into plastic boxes, in an insulated room kept at a constant temperature, where they begin feeding. After a few weeks the best are selected for a special high-protein diet of formulated dried food. We also treat them to a daily shower in order to wash away any waste matter and give them as happy a life, as possible.

Four weeks later they start fattening them up. Once again they are graded for size and the stock rate per box is changed again. At this point Tony adds his secret ingredient to the food mix dried herbs which he swears make his snails taste better than anybody elses. The rejects, namely those that dont grow large enough, are held back for further feeding until they make the grade. The snails are ready for market at 15 weeks when they are around 12 grams in weight.

Its at this point in their lifecycle that they offer the best meat quality and flavour. We stop feeding them, but continue to wash them daily in order to completely clear their systems of waste matter, continues Tony. The snails are then placed in mesh bags where they are hung and dried for three to four days.

Finally, they are stored in a large commercial fridge so that they fall into a state of hibernation. The day prior to delivery the snails are blanched in boiling water, with plenty of salt and vinegar, for three minutes. As they are tucked up in their shells in a state of hibernation, the meat is a nice circular shape without the extended foot or antenna. They are then de-shelled and vacuum-packed prior to delivery.

It took the couple two years to perfect the process of creating the ultimate gourmet snail. But painstaking experimentation with growth rates, stock numbers, feeding various types of food, and varying temperature and light levels has finally paid off. Tony believes he has the best tasting snails in the country. Not only are they tasty, they are also very healthy, being almost entirely fat-free and packed full of protein.

Though snails may not be everybodys cup of tea, some of the most celebrated gastronomes in the UK place snails high on their list of favourites. Heston Blumenthal is perhaps the most celebrated, with his ubiquitous snail porridge, and Gary Rhodes is another gastropod fan and an enthusiastic customer of Dorset Escargot.

Tony is determined to spread the word about his delicious snails, particularly in such a foodie county as Dorset, where he was born and bred. So he was particularly excited when the avant-garde owners of the Bridge House Hotel in Beaminster decided to snatch up the gastropod gauntlet and approached him to discuss the idea of adding fresh snails to their menu.

The result was the launch of their All Day Snail Breakfast, a delicious fusion of Gallic and English cuisine created by their Head Chef, Steve Pielesz. Rather than simply serve snails in garlic butter, we wanted to try something new that would tempt both connoisseurs and newcomers, says Steve. We loved the taste and texture combination; the snails are soft, juicy and have a similar texture to a mushroom. Since appearing on the menu they have been flying out the door. Dorset diners clearly have extremely cultured palates, he adds.

Tony is keen to impress that fresh snails are a world apart, in terms of taste, from those served in tins. Many snails served in France are actually out of a tin and are chewy and gritty, whereas fresh snails take on a taste of their own theres simply no comparison, he concludes.
And so Dorset adds yet another gourmet ingredient to its every expanding list, an ingredient that truly can claim to be real slow food.


You can buy snails direct from Dorset Escargot by calling 01202 549 733 orclick here to visit thier website. The All Day Snail Breakfast is available at the Beaminster Brasserie 01308 862200.




0 comments

More from Food & Drink

Friday, October 12, 2018

From farmhouse to country house, tea room to hotel Sue Quinn leaves no crumb untested as she seeks out some of the finest cream teas in the county

Read more
Monday, October 8, 2018

Sunday afternoons are made for lazing in a cosy pub, beer in hand and an overflowing plate of delicious roast dinner on the table. We pick 10 great places for Sunday lunch in Dorset

Read more
Monday, October 1, 2018

Fanny Charles is impressed by her lunch at Seasons at The Eastbury

Read more
Friday, September 28, 2018

Here are our Dorset Food, Drink and Farming winners for 2018; nominated and voted for by you

Read more
Friday, September 14, 2018

When Friday night arrives you can’t beat a traditional fish supper from the local chippy. With some help from our readers and in no particular order, we pick eight great ‘plaices’ for fish and chips in Dorset

Read more
Thursday, September 13, 2018

You can’t beat a pub lunch after a scenic country walk with your four-legged friend. In no particular order, we pick some of the best dog friendly pubs in Dorset

Read more
Monday, September 3, 2018

Robert Ndungu, Head Chef of the award-winning pub The Acorn in Evershot, reveals what is making his tastebuds tingle as summer gives way to autumn

Read more
Monday, August 20, 2018

We are delighted to announce our 2018 finalists

Read more
Monday, July 23, 2018

Asian flavours combine with seasonal Dorset ingredients at The Ollerod - an exciting new relaxed dining venture in the heart of Beaminster

Read more
Friday, July 20, 2018

From creamy classics to inspiring new flavours of gelato, Dorset is home to some of the best ice cream parlours in the south west. With some help from our readers, we pick eight great places to indulge in a scoop this summer

Read more
Monday, July 16, 2018

Kieran Perree, scallop diver and Golden Scallop founder shares his recipe for pan fried Lyme Bay scallops

Read more
Monday, July 9, 2018

Dab caught from Abbotsbury beach cooked with lots of garlic, parsley and butter

Read more
Tuesday, July 3, 2018

You can get lobster meat from a good fishmonger, though prawns or white crabmeat works well too. The homemade mayonnaise with its lemony hit of sorrel makes this extra special

Read more
Monday, July 2, 2018

Summer is fast approaching and warm weekends are perfect for sitting in a pub garden with good beer and even better company. In no particular order, we pick ten of the best Dorset pubs with beer gardens

Read more
 
A+ South & South West

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search