A look in the shell of a Long Island snail farm
Written by Augustus Fei
Snail porridge was presented as part of a surprise seven course meal to 32 people, all dishes utilizing locally sourced ingredients from the farms in the area. Despite its cultivation scarcity in the United States, the snails served were locally sourced from a Cutchogue farm.
The PawPaw pop up restaurant opened for one of only four spring suppers on May 4th. Hosted by chef and farmer Taylor Knapp, the snails he utilized for his dish came from his very own farm, Peconic Escargot.
Before Knapp started his snail farming business, he worked as a chef in First and South in Greenport. The restaurant prided itself in using locally sourced food and ingredients, but when Taylor wanted to create a snail dish, he found that there was no locally sourced snails. If he wanted to make his dish, he would have to buy imported canned snails from outside the US.
“I made this snail farm to bring local fresh snails to businesses in New York,” Knapp said. “Big restaurants and chains prefer to have snails deshelled, but smaller restaurants and home chefs prefer snails still inside their shells.”
Knapp owns the only commercial snail farm along the East Coast of the United States, providing fresh locally grown snails to restaurants willing to utilize the unique cuisine. He raises 50,000 to 70,000 snails a year to serve them to the public. The French Louie restaurant in Brooklyn and the Industry Standard pub located in Greenport both source their snails from Knapp.
“The customers loved the dish,” Robin Mueller, manager of Industry Standard, said. “We recently changed ownership this September so the menu changed a bit, but I want to talk to the head chef about putting the Parisian Gnocchi dish back on the menu.”
French Louie serves the snails as an appetizer with bacon. The menu also hosts a traditional New Orleans dish called “Marchand De Vin,” a signature dish for the restaurant that many of the regulars love. The owner created the dish for a “french bistro feel and nothing says french bistro like escargot.”
“Peconic Escargot and canned snails are very different,” Ryan Angulo, the chef-owner of French Louie, said. “Canned snails have a very earthy, one-sided flavor. Peconics have a vegetal almost briny flavor, with a hint of earth and forest.”
“A common misconception with snails is that it’s only utilized in French cuisine,” Ric Brewer, owner of Little Gray Farms, another snail farm in the United States, said. “Several cultures eat snails in different ways. Most people think of escargot as sitting in a pool of butter and garlic, but it’s very versatile. You can put it in pasta, on pizza, and even in pastries in Italian and Moroccan cuisine.”
Pumpernickels Restaurant, located in Northport, specializes in German cuisine, but offers escargot as an appetizer to its customers. In Industry Standard, the chefs are trying to combine snails and ramen together to make a dish. Mirabelle, a French-American restaurant in the town of Stony Brook, which has aimed for more American dishes as of late, still keeps escargot on the menu.
“It’s a bit more of an uncommon order now, but we keep it on the radar for customers,” said Ryan Pendzick, a manager at Mirabelle.
For escargot in restaurants, generally two types of snails are served. Peconic Escargot and Little Gray Farms raise the cornu aspersum, known as the Petit Gris. The Petit Gris is one of the more adaptable snails. Compared to its other eaten counterpart, helix pomatia, more known as the Roman Snail, the Petit Gris is able to survive in a larger variety of environments compared. The only major nutrient that snails need is calcium as low calcium intake slows the growth process.
“As long as you keep them properly fed in warm, humid conditions, the snails pretty much take care of themselves,” Knapp said.
While both Taylor and Ric express the ease of taking care of snails, the regulations for their farms are strict. The Petit Gris is flagged as an invasive species and agricultural pest to the United States, requiring snail farmers to build sealed facilities approved by the National Agriculture Library of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in order to be licensed snail farmers.
“Permits are required at the federal level for the interstate movement of live snails for the purpose of establishing a snail farm,” Rebecca Thompson of the USDA, said.
For the sale of escargot, the organization does not regulate dead snails or slugs, although the USDA warns that packaging containing the escargot cannot contain soil or plants.”
“If you bring in a snail from another state, you have to file for a USDA permit for the transport. Snails that exit the facility have to be dead [and processed],” Ric Brewer said.
Should the USDA be notified that these facilities are not adequately holding the snails or if the farmers were selling the Petit Gris alive, their licenses would be immediately terminated.
“We even regulate movement of these snails for educational purposes as well,” Tanya Brown of the USDA Research Center, said.
Despite the regulations, Taylor believes that his snail farm is doing well, sourcing out 40 to 50 pounds of snails a week to restaurants.
“We have a lot of people reaching out to us for information, but unfortunately due to our position in the market we’re not really willing to share all of our secrets,” Taylor said. “Some day we will. Maybe I’ll write a book or something.”