Novelty caviar catching on

If you want your guests to linger over an exclusive entree at a festive dinner party, why not try a novelty in slow-food – snail eggs.

by: Reuters | 21 Dec 2007

The French started eating snail eggs on a small scale in the 1980s, but the pasteurised product failed to catch on.

A few years ago breeder Dominique Pierru revived the 'caviar d'escargot' by making it more pure and fresh.

"I once tasted the old caviar d'escargot and I found it dull," said Laurent Couegnas, the head chef and owner of the Escargot Montorgeuil restaurant in Paris, which is one of a few places to serve the delicacy.

"But when Dominique let me taste his product, it was something different, very interesting, slightly salty," he said.

At a snail farm near Soissons, 60 km northeast of Paris, Dominique grows the 'Petit Gris' snail and puts thousands of them in a nursery where they lay around 100 small eggs in a single session just once a year.

Pierru hopes to farm 200 kg of eggs this year, and 600 kg in 2008.

He feeds the snails on greens and powdered cereals, pampering the animals until they lay a small clutch of little white, pearl-like, eggs.

After collecting them and cleaning the eggs in a special hygienic room, Pierru puts them into a brine with special sea salt and some rosemary. Then they are put in jars which are closed in a vacuum.

"It tastes like undergrowth after the rain," Pierru said.

He supplies several restaurants and is getting orders from Japan, Belgium, Australia. With limited supply and rising demand, a jar of 120 grams sells for 200 euros.

"It's different than sturgeon caviar of course. First the size, snails' eggs have the size of large salmon eggs. Then the taste – sturgeon caviar has a very pronounced taste and snails' eggs have a very delicate taste. I would not eat it by spoonful," Couegnas said.

In the restaurant, cook Frederic Giraud makes a dish with a carpaccio of raw scallops brushed with olive oil, with some garlic, parsley, 'yuzu' Japanese lemon and croutons, topped with a good helping of snail caviar mixed with fresh cream.

The dish costs 31 euros.

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