In Italy there is a particular gastronomic tradition linked to the consumption of land snails, a tradition that attracts many gourmets especially in late spring and autumn.
Snails are a common dish mostly in France, where they are known by the name “escargots”, which translated into Italian means ‘lumaca’ or in English, snail. The difference between these two mollusks is that the French escargots have slightly larger dimensions than the Italian ones, which nevertheless remain unbeatable for their unique flavour.
In Italy, snails have been appreciated since the Roman period and then have formed a traditional dish of peasant cuisine. For years they have been part of the local traditions kept alive in the families of each region.
Today they have become part of some haute cuisine dishes thanks to programmes such as Masterchef, the famous culinary talent show followed around the world, which have made known delicacies such as ‘snail eggs’ that compete with the prized Sturgeon caviar. This is a way to revisit Italian traditions with a new taste experience.
In Italy, the breeding of snails, called eliciculture, aims to improve and select the variety of molluscs to satisfy new tastes in haute cuisine. The organic breeding is done outdoors so that the snail feeds on the particular herbs of the place and absorbs those special aromas and essences. The collection of snails takes place especially after rain. In France, instead, greenhouse breeding is preferred, undoubtedly more artificial and less natural but harvesting can be done at any time of the year.
In Italy, the snail is appreciated in every region, each of which has its own basic recipe for cooking it. In general, in the centre-south they are prepared in a stew, with or without tomato but with chilli of your choice, and accompanied by pasta or bread.
In particular, the bread must have some characteristics to enhance the taste of the sauce and you prefer a bread baked in a wood oven and produced with grains from the locality. In the area to the south of Rome the bread of Lariano is very famous, which also has a regional recognition for the method with which it is produced.
In the northern regions, the snails are sautéed, that is cooked with a sauce of garlic, onion and white wine, and enjoyed with good corn polenta prepared with selected local maize.
Before being cooked the snail must undergo a long treatment where it is purged, the impurities are eliminated, and then it is precooked.
Where to taste traditional snail dishes?
In Italy the snail is celebrated in different festivals and one of the best known is that of Valmontone, southeast of Rome. In June, on the night of San Giovanni, in Colle San Giovanni, every year the traditional snail festival takes place, attracting gourmets from Rome and the surrounding areas.
The event is extended for five days and tournaments, popular games, musical performances and the classic tasting of traditional dishes take place.
What differentiates this festival from the others is its uniqueness in combining fun and gastronomy together. The snails in the sauce are accompanied by the bread of Lariano and served in traditional earthenware dishes that are taken away as a souvenir by the participants. Good fun for gourmets and collectors.