I was invited to dinner by Elisa Orchi to let me taste a dish of snails cooked in the Roman style with tomato, mint, chilli pepper, garlic, pepper, salt and a little white wine. A dish that I judge disappeared from the menu of Roman families. When I was a boy, my mother used to propose snails at the table at least once a year, especially on the occasion of the feast of
Saint John. Sometimes he would take us to the Appia Antica (like saying outside Rome compared to Via Nazionale where we lived) to find snails after a classic Roman downpour. Today it is rare to find snails even in the local markets at least those of the historic center, but I am sure that when the Romans go to France they do not neglect to taste the escargots. I remember
a non-gastronomic use of snails is to ingest them to treat gastric ulcer during the war years.
I asked the landlady where she had purchased the snails and I knew that in Allumiere, a town in Southern Etruria famous for the aluminum mines now closed, there is a thriving snail farm always present on the menu of the restaurants in the area Tolfa. A wonderful opportunity to go and browse and understand how a snail farm works. So I visited a family-run company in which the tasks are well divided among the family members.
We had to be accompanied because the farm is located within the Mediterranean scrub that extends behind Allumiere. A long journey of ten kilometers to reach the farm through a rough road curves traced in the thick vegetation that spreads intense and pleasant scents of mint and fenugreek.
A nice boy creator and curator of the farm welcomes us. It was precisely the gastronomic tradition of the region that suggested the creation of the plant to Stefano Sforzini, technician of a local company. So he left for Cherasco in the Province of Cuneo, where the International Institute of "Heliciculture" organizes weekend courses through which everyone can profitably dedicate themselves to the breeding and marketing of the product. Intelligence and entrepreneurial courage assisted him in setting up heliculture.
Guided visit to the snail community
Today he is very satisfied with his initiative also because it has had an economic success. The crops are made by means of strips of earth for a height of 20 centimeters, of various length and two meters of width enclosed by galvanized sheets, in which leafy plants are grown capable of providing nourishment to the snails and allowing the laying of the eggs after mating. These sectors are interspersed with weed passages essential for the care of the farms.
The curiosity of nature wants that snails are hermaphrodite but insufficient so they must mate to produce 50-200 eggs which after being hidden in a receptacle of the soil will give birth to a maximum of 150/200 adults. The eggs are edible and can well replace the most famous caviar. It is also interesting to know that the snail has
of 20.000-25.000 teeth arranged on 150-200 rows capable of grating the grass to swallow it with saliva. An exhausting job!
The field is recited by a galvanized sheet to prevent both escaping snails and the entry of predators. A 100% polyethylene net is laid on the internal surface of the sheet, arranged so as to form two frills that make it impossible to pass the fence. Moreover, the snail can produce a substance capable of corroding even iron. A snail
lives from 1 to 6-7 years.
When the breeder puts the irrigation system into operation, the snails come out into the open and are collected to be subjected to seven days of purging, then checked and selected according to the size and then sent to the veterinary check before being sold to markets and restaurants. . How many are sold? 12.000 - 20.000 per day in the periods
traditionally important for the demand for this gastronomic delicacy.
Part is boiled on the spot for about an hour and a quarter and frozen in packages of three hundred grams or a kilo.
Of course, there are also problems with snail breeding that can make it fail. First of all, the choice of terrain is important. It is no coincidence that we made a long journey to get away from the inhabited center and another walking route to get away from the path of the cars and their discharges of fine dust. Snails are in fact very exposed to the action of harmful substances and in particular that of heavy metals or other. Then there are parasitic diseases.
The curiosities are not over if we mention the names of the snails in the various dialects:
Snail, snail and an innumerable quantity of phonetic variants that from Lazio and Tuscany extend to the North-East and North-West with the Lumascon augmentative and diminutive forms such as lumagot; Limasa in Liguria and Piedmont from Limus "mud", Chiocciola in central-western Tuscany; Cocciola in Marche and Abruzzo refers to cochlea; Martinaccio on the Tuscan-Romagna border with the personal name Martino also given to birds (kingfisher);
Schnecke for the Friulian Ladins; Closed in Veneto and Friuli which stands for clusus, closed; And many others: dogwood, bovine, coccia, brand, ciammaruca, bovalaci, croca, sizzigorru ...
The recipes are many and are confirmed in festivals such as that of Cannule (LE), Casumaro (FE), Molini di Triora (IM), Cantalupo DomBevagna (PG), and many others throughout the year. All this information I extracted from the text published by the Institute of
Heliciculture by Giovanni Anagnina who in 98 was the mayor of Cherasco and the expert in breeding.