Back in the early days of Good Food Revolution, a friend of ours wrote a short piece about musician Sammy Hagar and his love of wine.
Fast forward five years and the same young lady, Charity Anaïs, is now farming snails in California and is looking to crowdfunding an expansion of her project. We caught up with her to discover what lies behind her affinity for snails.
Good Food Revolution: So… Charity… please tell us about how you moved from wine into snails? Thats quite the move, non?
Charity Anaïs: It is and it isn’t. Before I was a sommelier I worked in worries, much of the time in the vineyards, and I’ve always wanted to get back outside. And working as a somm took me to Burgundy, France, on multiple occasions. Really there is no better place to fall in love with escargot. Which of course I did. I must have eaten escargot at every meal. Then when I returned to California and ordered it in a restaurant it was never even close to the same experience. I think I went back and forth between Burgundy and San Francisco four times before I finally threw my hands up in the air, decided enough was enough with the canned products and started my own farm.
GFR: And what is the story behind EscarGrow?
CA: EscarGrow Farms began as a giant dream: to feed the world with snails! It’s scaled back momentarily, baby steps and all that. Now we just want to prove that California can raise world-class escargot too. We’re lucky, early french immigrants brought the petit gris over with them years ago and of course, they got out, multiplied and are in just about every county out here. Where other people see pests, I see appetizers.
GFR: Tell us more about this crowdfunding that you are doing?
CA: Barnraiser.us is a an awesome site! They love, local, small, sustainable food systems and are doing their part to help change the face and pace of food in America. They have been incredible, very hands on through out the entire process. They really want to see us succeed too. And though it seems like we are still a long way from our goal we are working together to make sure we get to where we need to be.
GFR: And how could people find out more and/or donate?
GFR: Tell us about a day in the life of a snail farmer?
CA: I call snails watered activated so every morning I give them a little spritzing. Then i make sure they have plenty of fresh greens to munch on. I also go through and pull out snail caviar twice a week. I try to keep it all as fresh as possible. By lunch time it’s all business and paperwork and in the afternoon I’m out hand delivering snail caviar to whomever is next up on the list. I have a wait list about a month land a half ong for the stuff so it keeps me pretty busy.
GFR: Is there a huge market for snails? Is anyone else doing anything like this? In the USA? Canada?
CA: There is a HUGE market! I’m not sure about Canada but I know the US imports millions of dollars of snails every year. And right now we are one of 4 farms in the US. All small farms like us too. What’s even more exciting though is that we are the only farm doing caviar d’escargot or snail caviar. North America is the only continent in the world that does not have a viable escargot industry. I aim to change that permanently.
GFR: And what do you feed the little blighters on?
CA: Organic greens! Lots and lots of organic greens. They love kale, cucumbers, carrots, daikon radish, grape leaves. Gosh, the list is endless and we are lovingly supported by Fifth Crow Farms down in Santa Cruz, California. They come to the farmer’s market right out our front door each week and donated bags of goodies to the snails. So grateful to those guys!
GFR: I know that most of the canned ones we see here some from Indonesia… any thoughts on those?
CA: You know I do! Canned anything is just a shadow of its former self. Canned tomatoes versus an heirloom off the vine? There’s really no comparison. And snails are the same. Why consume canned when you can have fresh? And really good news for Canada here too… we are working with potential farmer down in St. Catherine’s to bring fresh escargot to Ontario too!
GFR: Knowing what I do about you, I’m guessing that the whole project is super sustainable?
CA: We wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m developing a system right now to collect all of their waste product, to circle back into production or to sell to local farms to help increase their soil nutrition. It’s a really fun and exciting development. I’ll keep you posted.
GFR: What is your favourite way to prepare your snails?
CA: I like to keep it simple. I love them sautéed in a little white wine and shallots. Let their flavour shine I say. They are so savoury and a little bit earthy. Why hide all of that behind butter and garlic? Though that’s really yummy too!
GFR: And your favourite snail-related wine pairing?
CA: Why Burgundy of course!
GFR: Now… WTF is Snail Caviar? I’m not sure if I like the sound of that…
CA: Haha, yeah, just about everyone has the same initial reaction. You’re probably thinking they are slimy or salty, but you’d be wrong on both counts. They are delightfully smooth, and springy, and taste of delicate spring onions. We brine them to help preserve them and clean them but other than that we don’t do anything to them. The texture is great too, far more firm than caviar or roe. They will bounce if you drop them.
GFR: And your favourite applications for that?
CA: The options are endless! We have a restaurant who uses them in a cocktail! Love that one. Also they are used in caviar service, as a garnish, alongside escargot in a soup. Really people are just having fun with them and I couldn’t be happier.
GFR: Are you finding much support from the Chef community in California?
CA: The community here is incredible! My very first restaurant, 25 Lusk, has been so supportive. When I first started working with the snail eggs I literally walked into the kitchen with a tub of dirt and snail eggs. Chef Mathew Dolan basically taught me how to do my job. Same goes with Chef Sean Gawle. He was working at Bright’s Les Clos Wine Bar at the time and I had no idea how to process the snails for escargot. I showed up with a bucket of snails and he did all the rest. The SF restaurant community is one of the closest I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. I feel truly blessed.
GFR: What does the snail offer us nutritionally?
CA: Wow! What don’t they? They are such a super food. Packed with protein, magnesium, calcium and very little fat. Theoretically, if you could bake a loaf of bread using just snails you could survive off of a walnut sized portion for a day. Snails rock!
GFR: This is a great story, Charity… we wish you all the best in achieving your goals! All the best from Toronto.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he does enjoy his snails now and again… now he just needs to try some snail caviar.