If you ask the average British teenager what gastronomic horrors feature on their ‘food to avoid in France’ list, you will no doubt be greeted with snails and frogs’ legs vying for top position. Snail farms, however, are great places to visit with friends and family as a quintessential French experience and, for the more adventurous among you, there is always the opportunity to taste a snail or two at the end of your tour.
Last summer, we had the lovely Lyn from California come and stay with us via the Workaway scheme. As per usual, we asked if she wanted to visit the Mont-Saint-Michel, the D-Day Landing Beaches or the Bayeux Tapestry, but no, she wanted to see a snail farm! Fortunately, just a short drive from where I live in the Bocage area near Vire, there is a snail farm called Les Escargots de l’Odon. So off we set.
I had been here some ten years beforehand when I accompanied my son on a school trip and I remembered the children’s delight at seeing snails for real, learning about how they’re bred and watching them roam around in the fresh air! The farm is nestled in an idyllic country spot just south of Villers-Bocage, and is run by Christine Wissler and Jean-François Zygmaniak, who set up shop over fifteen years ago. Christine’s traditional savoir-faire and the sunshine made for a lovely afternoon out with Lyn, who took lots of pictures and asked Christine lots of questions about the snails.
The visit follows the snails from inside, where the eggs hatch, to a nursery for the baby snails who some time later get to meet the great outdoors with lots of calcium rich vegetation to eat to help them build up healthy shells.
You can wander around the pond, take in the other local wildlife and also picnic in situ. The shop has lots of local goodies on offer and an amazing selection of snail items for sale.
And don’t forget to take home some yummy snails in garlic butter that have been specially prepared by Christine. Lyn, bless her cotton socks, did try a snail that evening at dinner, but remained unconvinced as to whether she would be eating one again. I, on the other hand, polished off her share of snails, mopping up the garlic butter with a chunk of fresh baguette and a glass of decent red wine. Délicieux !
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.
Cover photo © Mikhail Kayl / Shutterstock | Text: Alison Weatherhead