In just over four years, Raewynne Achten’s amateur foray into farming snails, initially plucked straight from her garden at home,
has grown into a thriving business – New Zealand’s only commercial snail operation as far as she knows.
Watch the video as Raewyn Achten talks about her family business Silver Trail Snails.
Snail Farming Success – New Zealand’s Only Commercial Snail Operation
It’s breeding season at the Silver Trail gourmet snail farms and the team has a population explosion on its hands.
In just over four years, Raewynne Achten’s amateur foray into farming snails, initially plucked straight from her garden at home, has grown into a thriving business – New Zealand’s only commercial snail operation as far as she knows.
There are nine beds at her Raukawa Valley property near Hastings. Before breeding season began this year she estimates there were between 80,000 and 100,000 snails – now she has no idea, but says it’s hundreds of thousands.
There are a further eight beds at her partner Jaye Sims’ Onga Onga property.
The idea for the snail farm was hatched late in 2005, as Raewynne was looking for something to do from home on their block of just under one hectare.
“I’d heard about someone in Levin trying to start a snail farm about 10 years ago … the idea was always there in the back of my mind.” (For the record, the snail farm in Levin didn’t work out.) One day, Raewynne googled snail farming and found an on-line manual, so she bought it.
“It sounded pretty basic. Within a week I had made my first trial bed and filled it up with snails from my garden.”
The first bed was a 3m by 2m corrugated-iron box filled with soil and flower plants from her garden.
Within six weeks she had baby snails hatching and by March, 2006, it was obvious she would be able to breed snails.
Then, before the end of summer, disaster struck when birds discovered and decimated the entire population.
The other problem with the design soon became apparent. “It was a hot summer and the iron was hot. Quite often they would go up on the side of the iron and bake.”
Putting shade cloth up and netting to deter the birds helped, but Raewynne knew the design would never be practical on a large scale.
After visiting a snail farmer in Australia in July, 2006, they switched to a system based on the Italian way of open-air farming.
The snails are selected for size and colour and sold “young and plump”. They are harvested on size, with 28mm across the base of the shell being the minimum. They are aiming to increase this to 30mm, “the bigger the better”.
The snails are Centareus asperses, sometimes known as petit gris and commonly known as your common brown garden snail. They are fed on a diet of brassicas, plantain and fresh vegetables, grown in the snail beds on site and without pesticides.
Organic bran and vegetables are used to cleanse their systems for about a week before harvest. Once purged, the snails are hand-picked, blanched and finished in Hawke’s Bay water or wine and vinegar, ready for immediate consumption.
The key to farming snails is simply giving them conditions they love. “Lots of food they love to eat, not overcrowding them is a big thing, and the temperature,” Raewynne says.
She admits the Hawke’s Bay climate isn’t ideal for snails because it is too hot. They like temperatures between 18-25°C and don’t like it too windy.
Raewynne selects the biggest, healthiest looking snails to be the “breeders”. Snails need a 32mm base and a nice thick shell to be considered worthy. A small snail is likely to produce small snails, so any mature snails that don’t make the 28mm harvesting cut are culled.
This year they are looking at introducing some new stock from different areas, as even snails can be the victims of inter-breeding.
Silver Trail Gourmet Snails have been used by some of the best chefs and restaurants in the country, including Craggy Range winery in Havelock North and Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant on Waiheke Island. Well-known chef Kent Baddeley has been encouraging of the venture from early on.
“Before we started out, we rang all the restaurants and wineries here in the Bay to ask whether they would consider using Hawke’s Bay-grown snails and had really positive feedback,” Raewynne says.
“Kent was awesome … we took our first lot to him and he loved them.”
Initially they didn’t have a lot of snails and were “pretty green” at processing them. The procedure of getting a snail out of its shell using a fondue-like fork, without puncturing or tearing it, is not easy. Those that do fall casualty to the fork are frozen and used for other things, like experiments with snail pate. Snails freeze well, but fresh snails should be eaten within a week.
The snail season depends on the weather, but can begin as early as October and finish as late as April.
None of the Achten family had ever eaten snails before they started farming them and children Olivia, 7, and Josh, 11, were the first to try them. Now the family regularly try different recipes and attend food events to spread the word about snails. Olivia’s favourite way to eat snail is baked on crostini with a little bit of cheese. Raewynne likes them baked in a vol au vent with blue cheese, and Josh votes for deep-fried with garlic mayo.
Clearly the entrepreneurial type, Raewynne has hazelnut trees (from an earlier venture) with their roots infected with truffle spores planted in rows between the snail beds. She and a friend also began a little 3-D sculpture business called Replica.
The trees haven’t produced any truffles yet, but they provide some shade for the snails and the hazelnuts are good.
Future plans for the snail enterprise are equally adventurous. Fliers have been drawn up for snail farm tours.
Raewynne is investigating alternative markets for the undersize mature snails, but hasn’t found anything yet. “I think there’s a lot of potential for the retail market, having them in gourmet delis.”
The snails will soon be sold in Bellatinos, in Havelock.
Snails are used for other things, like pharmaceuticals and cosmetics and Raewynne plans to explore those options. She is also thinking about how to capitalise on the Rugby World Cup, especially as France play a pool match in Hawke’s Bay.
Source: http: //www.country-wide.co.nz/article/11511.html
Video Source: http: //www.3news.co.nz/Hawkes-Bay-snail-farm-eyes-global-market/tabid/369/articleID/138599/Default.aspx