After two rather intensive days, I decided to slow down to a snail’s pace and escape a little from my pink cloud. Maurice was fun, but then……
Breakfast was, as ever, a pleasant affair. Arnaud and his wife joined me for a coffee and chat. I had told them about my visit to Jean. Now I was on the hunt for a snail, hmm, what do you call them, a snail farm? “A heliciculture”, Arnaud replied.
Ah, yes, well whatever.
“Do you know a place?” Arnaud asked.
“Nooooo, I was rather hoping you might have an idea.”
“Well, there is really only one person,” said Hélène, “and that is René.” “How can I get in touch with him?” I asked. “I’ll ring him for you,” said Hélène.
She got up from the table and went to her office. A few minutes later, she came back and said, “Oh, you are lucky. It’s visiting day today.”
“Great, I best get going. If you can give me the directions, please.”
I entered the address in the SatNav and drove off. The first part of the drive was lovely, vineyards left and right of me. But after I had passed Meursault, things got decidedly more rural and flatter, meadows and fields. Snail country. I loved the three-lane system, even if it is a little hairy if a driver with too much testosterone wants to beat the system.
I was driving along the Departmental Road when the moment came for me to turn right, heading towards Fontaines. I was a little confused because the SatNav guided me into a residential street. Surely not an appropriate place for Snails Paradise. I overshot my destination because there was no clear snail farm sign. When I glanced into the rearview mirror, I saw a green sign attached to the wall of a somewhat nondescript building. Was this really my destination? Hard to imagine. But it was the case. It seemed to be the right place. Just as I was getting out of my Pink Lady, another car also pulled up. There were also a handful of people waiting at the door. I joined the group and waited for things to happen.
René finally joined us and explained the beginnings of his heliciculture. “Back in 2007, I left teaching and started to breed snails, in particular the helix aspersa maxima, more commonly known as Gros Gris. It took me about ten years to get established and be accepted by the local restaurants. It’s slow progress, a snail’s pace.”
He then took us to the back of his property, and we saw that the snails are raised in the open air.
“Everything is done for their well-being. They have abundant and nourishing plant cover. They are watered daily and get quality food. We are totally organic, so without fertilizer, without weedkiller and with respect for the environment. What you see are these wooden structures which are placed in six parks, each about 180 m ². The breeding cycle starts in May and the snails mature around September.
Some people in the group were a little squirmy when they saw the snails and their slime trails everywhere. I have seen worse things, so I wasn’t too bothered. I just had to remember some beauty and spa treatments I had experienced. A snail sliding slowly across my face, well, that’s a little different. I actually went to such a treatment in London, quite a few years ago. There was a lot of hype with anti-ageing treatments. Funnily enough, it was the ancient Greeks who started it, then it disappeared to Asia and then popped up in London. But, you can also buy the slimy goodness in tubes, if you feel squeamish.
After the explanations, we went to the farm shop. René proudly talked about all his culinary creations. But there was a problem. The shop had run out of snails. Christmas had devoured all his stocks, and we would have to wait a few months until September.
“Merde”, I thought.
I wasn’t a happy bunny because I was so looking forward to taking some back to Arnaud and Hélène for us to eat together.
When there is actually something to buy, the range should be quite good. Snails, frozen or in jars, terrines, marinades, “escargotines” in dough or in their shells and apparently, (if and when you can get it), a new product the snail chipo. René told us that it was a chipolata with pork and snail meat, shallots, garlic and parsley. He recommended it for autumn or Christmas barbecues. But am I labouring a point here, if you can actually be on time to buy the products?
But at least René created the “Burgundy Variant”, and I drove back to the hotel, empty-handed.
“You can always order on the website”, René said, smiling. “But you have to be quick!