When The Boss said he wanted Escargot on the menu, we drove straight over to Inis Escargot to meet County Cavan's resident heliciculturist, Peter Monaghan.
The founder of Inis Escargot - one of the only snail farms in Ireland and just a stone's throw from Virginia Park Lodge – told us all about heliciculture and the ups and downs of snail farming. Founded in 2015, just 10 minutes away from our own Virginia Park Lodge, Inis Escargot produces over 1 million snails a year. Peter's farm is organic and environmentally friendly, and he recommends smaller-scale snail farms as a great addition to any farming set-up. They don't require much land or food and produce very little waste, and he's hoping, with the help of the courses he runs, to inspire a network of successful snail farms across our fair land.
In December, Peter starts the breeding season for his snails. The results of which he expects around 600kg of freshly-hatched snails, equalling nearly 750 million individuals. Keeping a modest fraction of these - 1.5 million - Peter opts to sell the rest to start-up snail farmers he's helped to launch. Once hatched, the infant snails feed on forage rape and a high-cost calcium powder mix to ensure healthy growth. They're reared for around four weeks in polytunnels to keep them warm and then moved on to the field come May. They remain in the field until it starts getting cold. Peter usually begins the harvesting season in September. If you haven't yet tried Escargot, trying Peter's is a great place to start. They're not only delicious in flavour and low in fat but also an excellent source of protein, iron and other minerals. You can find the spoils of Peter's labour on The Park Cafe's menu in our Omelette D'Escargot.