They carry their homes on their backs but they do have a home from home – a sun-drenched meadow. This is the story of 600,000 snails, two adventure-seekers and their dreams carried on the wings of their enterprising spirit.
Four years ago young dancers Plamen Penchev and Paulina Manuilova took up a daring challenge – to start a snail farm. Just like that – with no skills or knowledge. They bought a large tract of land near Sevlievo with the help of family and friends.
“When we bought it, it was just barren land, we didn’t even know where its boundaries lay,” says Plamen Penchev. “Little by little we started fencing it in, installing water mains and electricity, an irrigation system etc. We used a tractor to plough the land, from then on everything we did, we did by hand.”
When PP Helix was ready, Plamen and Paulina went to the snail nursery and came home with 600,000 baby snails, no bigger than a grain of rice. With much care and attention to detail they put up wooden grating to protect them from the scorching sun. Soon their beginners’ luck kicked in and the farmers found their first buyer – in France, of all places, and there started selling their toddler-snails. They are all of the Helix Aspersa Maxima species and in just a few months they grew big enough to be used as food. But what do they taste like?
“They have a specific flavor,” says the young farmer and adds that he prefers them cooked Burgundy style. “Snails are fragile and if they are cooked properly they are a real delicacy. But people are prejudiced and that is why they avoid this kind of food. But the meat is delicious and in Italy, France, Spain it is considered a veritable treat. Unfortunately here in Bulgaria we have not cultivated that kind of palate. Maybe our grandparents knew how to cook snails, but I don’t think that is true of the younger generation.”
And as Bulgaria is, as yet an untapped market, Plamen Penchev exports his snails to a number of European countries. In his snail farm he applies what is known as the French technology