We never did get round to visiting the snail farm at the Col des Fans. It is a bit out of our normal range, being on the road between Lamastre and Valence which we no longer use so much now that the TGV station has been relocated outside the town of Valence. Also, although I don’t mind eating snails from time to time, neither of us was too sure how keen we were to learn the details of raising gastropods and the procedures involved in turning them in to edible delicacies. I have vivid childhood memories of one of those wire salad shakers full of live snails left hanging for a day or two on the window handle in a French kitchen so that they could fast and purify their systems before being sent to the pot, and it was not a pretty sight!
However friends had told us that the current owners are retiring and, having failed to find a purchaser for their farm, were organising a closing down event: an al fresco snail lunch to eat up the stock! François Gallix would be playing, there was to be a brocante and a Batucada, our friends were going, so we booked a table. It turned out to be the most delightful event. The farmhouse itself is very old, with a magnificent carved stone mantle over the immense kitchen fireplace. It is just over the pass, in a bend of the old road and enjoys splendid views. We were somewhat relieved to note that the concrete snail pens (if that is the correct word) are now all empty, the overhead sprinklers have been switched off for good and the former inhabitants left some time ago. There were obviously to be no distressing scenes.
The tables had been set out on a rough grassy area above the kitchen garden and decorated with flowers. It was a glorious sunny day and we strolled about and explored before settling down with an apéritif to listen to François and his trio. The owners, Hélène and Thierry were charming hosts and had produced a unique and delicious hélicicole feast.
With the castagnou apéritif we were offered canapés of a sort of snail tapenade, followed by a tiny cup of warm nettle soup with snail pieces and crème fraîche. Pitchers of white and red wine were brought round together with a brochette of barbecued snails and then an individual casserole of snails cooked in red wine and onions on a bed of rice. Dessert was a rather more conventional choice of chocolate mousse or chestnut soufflé and the Batucada serenaded us table by table as we ate it. I was reminded of the classic shaggy dog story of nocturnal snail hunters equipped with drums, torches and watering cans to trick their prey into believing there was a thunderstorm in progress!
Coffee was on offer but François had given us an intriguing address in the neighbouring village of Alboussière, where he was off to play next.
To be continued . . .