Snail farming or héliciculture in French (from the scientific term Helix which is one of the varieties of snails that can be farmed) is making a come-back. They aren’t really completely free-range as the giant pens have an electric fence so that they don’t just wonder off and so that their natural predators, like hedge hogs and birds don’t get there first.
Just outside of the medieval town of Menerbes in the Luberon a husband and wife team recently started their own snail farm. Over 150 000 part time residents (a mixture of petits gris and gros gris or Hélix Aspera and Hélix Aspera Maxima) hide in the shade of the vegetation by day and come out to feed by night or just as soon as the sprinkler system goes off. The season runs from April through October at which time the larger ones are harvested and those not quite ready to go from field to table are put in cold chambers (4°C) for a little hibernation.
Snails are invertebrates with soft bodies that belong to the Mollusca family which is broken down further into 9 classes including bivalves (clams, mussels), cephalopods (squid, octopus) and gastropods (snails and slugs). Snail meat is high in protein and low in fat.
France is still the world’s largest consumer of snails but the country has to import over 40% of the produce. At the farm in Menerbes www.ferme-auberge-aubongres.fr you can buy them whole or as spreads like the Escargot Provençale to which tomatoes, onions, and peppers have been added or Escargot truffé (with added truffles, parsley and shallots).