Will Czechs ever go back to eating snails at Christmas?
Snails, once a traditional Christmas dish in this part of the world, are once again gaining popularity. Russian entrepreneur Roman Chusnutdin was one of the first people to cash in on the trend, setting up a small snail farm in Dolní Chabry on the outskirts of Prague.
In the summer, millions of snails fill the outdoor pens of his Love Snails farm. In the winter months the snails are in hibernation, stored in crates, and Roman Chusnutdinov has time to experiment and try out new snail recipes for the small restaurant he runs on the farm. He already has around 140 of them and plans to write a snail cookbook.
“I have almost finished the cookbook, I just need to add photographs and make some final touches to it. The recipes are my own. I experiment with different flavours. I look at the typical dishes of a given country or region and try to preserve the taste of the recipe, but take it to a new level with snails. Today I want to try snails with pasta in a spicy butter sauce. I make one serving and then I eat it. "
The idea to set up a snail farm occurred to him fifteen years ago, when he first tasted snails in a restaurant in the centre of Prague. "The dish seemed quite expensive to me, and as a trained chef, I found shortcomings. So I started thinking about where I could buy snails and how to start a farm. It took me three years to organize things. I went to see how snail farms work in Spain, Italy, France and Poland. "
Even with the experience gained abroad, setting up a snail farm was not easy. The first purchase of snails fell through because someone sold him two-year-old snails that are no good for breeding. He went back to the drawing board to make sure no one would dupe him again.
“I studied everything and the following year I bought snails in Poland and the business slowly took off. In April, I plough the field where the snails will be and plant a special plant that is a hybrid of Chinese cabbage and canola. In four weeks, the plant is tall enough for me to release snails onto the field. In another four weeks, I start feeding the snails with a special feed the composition of which is a secret. No farmer will tell you that. I have my own recipe, which I worked hard on. It contains, for example, calcium, corn meal, sunflower meal, barley and wheat. I have 2-2.5 million snails at the height of the season. But there are considerable losses as well, some snails are scooped up by birds or eaten by mice. There’s nothing you can do about that. That's the way of Nature. "
Roman says that word about his snail farm quickly got out and today people from all over the Czech Republic go there to buy snails or even just have dinner. When the pandemic hit, and restaurants were forced to close, Roman had to look for other ways to operate.
“This year, it occurred to me that even if there was a ban, I could have a self-service here. The customer takes the food from the refrigerator and puts it in the oven. They are here alone and prepare it all by themselves. There are two people on the whole farm, which has 3,000 square meters. Snails are usually fresh here, so clients must first order what they want.“
The Love Snails farm cooperates with restaurants around the country and it also exports snails abroad.
"Last year, I exported 4 tons of snail eggs, which will be used to make caviar. From that amount you can get 30 tons of caviar. I have an order for 60 tons of caviar from Russia next year. I do not have garden snails. The garden variety take 3-4 years to grow. My snails grow to that size in just 4 months."
No doubt also due to Roman’s secret feed recipe. Roman’s business plan is comprehensive – he has a farm, restaurant and will soon have a cookbook – ready for a snail craze in the Czech Republic. And he is firmly convinced that one day Czechs will reembrace the one time Christmas delicacy in a big way.