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Slow Food: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Snail Farming (But Were Afraid to Ask)

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Fact: 99.9% of restaurants that have escargot on their menu received them in a can from France. Why? No other options. Fresh, never frozen snails are impossible to obtain, even for the country's best restaurants. Enter Taylor Knapp, chef of First and South restaurant in Greenport. He has teamed up with entrepreneur Sean Nethercott to begin building New York's first escargot farm in Cutchogue. The pair is raising funds via Kickstarter to finance the greenhouse that will eventually house the snails.

We wanted to know more, so we sat down with Taylor and asked him the hard questions about snail farming.

Is eating snails getting more popular?
I do believe that escargot is growing in popularity. It seems that some food trends, more so than others, make a comeback from time to time. Escargot was huge in the 80s with the influx of fine dining French restaurants in the US, and I think it's on its way back to its former glory. We're hoping that the addition of a fresh product to the market will convince people that would typically steer clear of escargot to maybe give it a try. This is not your grandmother's slimy canned escargot. We're talking fresh, never canned or frozen herb fed snails here. Big difference.

How do snails reproduce, anyway?
Well, snails are hermaphrodites so they have both male and female reproductive organs. I'm not going to get into all the nasty bits, but basically, after several hours of "courtship," one (or both) of the snails involved are made pregnant. 30-80 eggs are laid into the soil within a few weeks. Eggs will hatch in 2-4 weeks, depending on the temperature.

How old are snails when they're eaten?
Snails will reach full maturity (and be ready for harvest) when they're about a year old.

How do you farm snails? What kind of a setup do you need?
All snails, unless foraged in the wild, are raised in open air pens: essentially shallow wooden boxes filled with soil, maybe some plants. The problem with this technique is that the snails are left open to many hazards and predators: birds, cold weather, wind, rain, and diseases. In addition, the snails themselves can escape from these pens and cause havoc on nearby agriculture by eating it in excess. What we'll be doing, which has never been done before, is to completely contain the snails within a greenhouse on stacking soil trays, like a snail high rise. The greenhouse will be a completely enclosed 18 x 36 foot space with fans for fresh air, humidifiers, heaters, and air conditioners. We'll literally be able to control the environment. And don't forget the sunlight.

Because of the sealed nature of the structure, the snails won't be able to get into nasty situations with the nearby farmland - which is incredibly important given the abundance of North Fork agriculture. On the flip side, the snails will be protected within the greenhouse from predators and the weather. Snails require an incredibly specific temperature and humidity to really thrive. We'll be able to provide them with exactly what they need. All of these factors are essential, while still allowing the snails to live in a clean, fresh air, sun-soaked little ecosystem.

How are snails harvested? Are they kept alive until they're cooked?
When the snails are mature enough to be harvested, they'll be transferred to finishing pens where they'll be fed a special diet of herbs and possibly acorns. This process will remove any dirt from their system and essentially season them from the inside out. The snails will be quickly blanched to remove them from the shells and packaged in clean vacuum sealed bags. These bags will preserve the flavor and texture, while allowing us to ship them anywhere in the country without preservatives or freezing.
· Peconic Escargot [Official site]
· Peconic Escargot [Kickstarter]