Snail company sees business speeding up

While they’re not a delicacy here, Stephen Cadogan reports on why one firm is breeding snails in Carlow

Snails are a fast-moving business for Eva Milka. She moved to Ireland from south Poland five years ago — and her Gaelic Escargot business has a target to produce ten tonnes this year, 30 tonnes of snails next year, and 100 tonnes by year four.

She imported 21,000 snails to start up the business at Garryhill, Co Carlow.

She began her snail breeding programme in containers in her bedroom, but Eva now has a special breeding house and polytunnel for her snails, which are moved to an outdoor area to grow free-range in their natural environment.

The development of a snail follows four cycles.

The first is the mating and egg-laying stage, which begins in February.

Next comes the incubation and hatching of eggs. The infant snails spend up to eight weeks in a polytunnel before being moved to a specially adapted field where they are fed a mixture of rape, beetroot, and dried food, to develop to 10g each.

This method produces high-quality, easily digestible and nutritious escargot, ready for any kind of recipe.

For export, the snails are hibernated.

This occurs as a result of refrigeration, or dropping the temperature to less than 5C.

Eva is exporting most of her produce, but would like to develop a market in Ireland, although many Irish people seem reluctant to try escargot, which is such a delicacy abroad.

Demand for snails in Italy averages around 194m tonnes each year, while in France, it is 115m tonnes.

Eva has found that the climate is well-suited to production of Helix Aspera Muller, the common garden snail, but much prized by continental gourmets.

It is Gaelic Escargot’s aim to develop an internationally recognised brand of Irish free-range fresh escargot.

Eva has been supported by the Carlow County Enterprise Board, where acting CEO Kieran Comerford said: “Gaelic Escargot is a prime example of a new export-led Carlow company.

“We offer a range of supports, not only to new companies but to those seeking assistance on breaking into export markets.”

It looks like both Eva and the enterprise board are onto a winner.

From a farmer’s point of view, there is great productivity in snails.

Aged one week old, they weigh as little as 20mg each, but can be grown to 20g in five months — representing a 1,000-fold weight gain.

The country perhaps best known for escargot — France — imports 90%, mainly from Eastern Europe.

It looks like a business area just waiting for free-range, fresh escargot to capitalise on Ireland’s strong image as the Food Island.

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