Could snails become the next food trend?
PUBLISHED: 09:37 08 October 2018 | UPDATED: 09:37 08 October 2018
Meet the couple putting Bowland snails on the menu with plans for a restaurant in the Ribble Valley. Emma Mayoh reports.
John Rowe and Leanne Aspinall know how to create a stir. The couple, who run L’Escargotiere, are bringing new meaning to the term slow food by breeding snails at their farm in Waddington. They are one of only two snail farms in the UK.
It’s a business that been two years in the making. John, fascinated with the history and nutritional benefits of the common garden snail, started to research starting his own two acre farm.
‘They are fascinating creatures,’ said John. ‘They fuelled the Roman army, wherever they went they set up a snail farm to feed the troops. They were a superfood. The ancient Greeks used their slime for skincare too.
‘They’ve been around for 500 million years and fossils have been found. There’s a reason they have survived this long. It is so interesting.’
John and Leanne breed Helix Aspersa Muller and Helix Aspersa Maxima snails - the type you would find in your garden - at the farm they built over a year ago. They live outside in custom built pens during the summer and are brought inside to hibernate in the winter. Being touted as the new superfood, snails are not only rich in protein and Omega 3 but they also contain more iron than red meat and are packed with amino acids. They are low in calories and high in nutritional value as well as containing lectin, a protein that not only helps boost the immune system but is also said to have cancer fighting properties. While they are a common dish in other European countries. John is keen to make put Bowland snails on the plates of diners around the UK.
‘Snails are usually a food people associate with France but Italy is the biggest consumer, you’ll find them on menus everywhere,’ said John. ‘There were 44 million tonnes produced just in Italy last year.
‘I want people to see they can get fantastic quality snails here in the UK. They don’t have to be imported in because we have amazing ones here.’
Their Bowland snails have caught the attention of chefs across the country. John and Leanne supply restaurants including Grafene in Manchester, Theatre Street Bar and Grill in Preston, Samlesbury Hall and The Bonny Inn in Salesbury, near Blackburn as well as several other venues around the country. They are in talks with wholesale company Delifresh to supply more outlets with Bowland snails and their recently developed snail and venison burgers have been popular at county shows this summer.
‘People love them and are really pleased to hear we’re doing this,’ said John. ‘We definitely get more people excited about what we’re doing, there are only a few who aren’t convinced. We made bolognese with snails at a show this summer.
‘We couldn’t keep up with the demand. People wanted bowl after bowl, I’ve never seen anything like it. People trying for the first time loved it but also, for people from other parts of Europe, it offered them a real taste of home. It was fantastic to see.’
The 50-year-old, from Blackburn, has big ambitions. He is currently looking for investment for a snail restaurant, Snail Ranch, on the farm. The snails will be the main event - snail tapas will be on the menu - but Lancashire food and drink will also be put in the spotlight. There will be a deli, gin and rum bar, shop selling snail themed products as well as a classroom for educational trips from schools. They also plan to develop and serve L’Escargotiere deli products - think ragus, bolognese sauces, snail salami and snail pate - for people to take home to make their own snail dishes at home.
‘We’ve spent the past two years researching and setting up the farm and getting it right,’ said John, who wants to have the restaurant open by the end of the year. ‘We were set back with floods in March but it turned out as a blessing in disguise as it helped us think more about accessibility, particularly for school trips.
‘I need investment now and I’m really hoping it will capture the enthusiasm of someone with vision. If we get that backing we could be open in two months. I can’t wait to get it open.’
John and Leanne also currently sell beauty products that use snail slime by existing brands but they plan to launch their own line over the next few years. Snail slime has many healing and anti ageing properties and in other parts of the world is already a popular ingredients in cosmetics and creams. Like the culinary snails, the couple hope they can also persuade more people to try. Their main ambition, though, is to encourage more people to embrace snails as a food and create a tourist destination that will bring more people to the Forest of Bowland.
‘For us, it’s about showing people that snails from the UK are just as good as anything you can get on the continent,’ said John. ‘It’s also about bringing more people to Lancashire to discover what an incredible place it is.
‘Two years ago everyone thought I was crazy but things are going well. It’s a really exciting thing to be a part of. It has been really hard work to get to this point but it’s been worth it. I just can’t wait to get the restaurant open.’