At year-end celebrations, snails are popular appetizers, accounting for 70% of company parties.
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2020 was a painfully slow year for France’s heliciculteurs, or snail farmers: almost all seasonal celebrations were cancelled, Christmas markets were canceled, visitors stayed away, and restaurants closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, leaving business at the speed of a snail. Escargots, edible country snails often eaten with butter and garlic in their shells, are a classic hors d’oeuvre at traditional French year-end celebrations, and in November and December, snail farmers usually expect up to 70 percent of their sales. They wonder what to do with their snails now. “We sell mainly for the year-end celebrations, but since the Christmas markets have been canceled, it’s been a difficult time,” Grégory Laude, a snail farmer near Dunkirk, told his local newspaper. There are about 400 snail farmers in France that produce for this unique seasonal market.
In recent years, others have branched out to appeal to visitors, many of them from the U.K. The U.S., but they were also absent in 2020. To make it worse, producers complain they have been excluded from government services so far during the Covid 19 pandemic to support small farmers and businesses. Hervé Ménelot, a snail farmer in Burgundy, said, “We are not organized at the national level as an association and we defend small farms, so it’s not easy to make our voices heard…”
The same treatment is all we are calling for. “In the fall, four representatives wrote to ministers to alert them to the difficulties facing snail farmers.”
In southern Europe, archaeologists have found large amounts of snail shells among stone instruments and animal remains in pits used for cooking during the early Gravettian period, indicating that around 30,000 years ago, Paleolithic people in Spain started consuming snails.
They are removed from their shells during French cooking, killed, cooked with garlic butter, wine or broth, and put back in their shells with the sauce. Hubert Hédoin, a snail farmer, told the Vendée TV station that all was not lost and that the remaining snails, which were still hibernating, had been pickled or preserved.