Having harvested and eaten Bulgarian snails and made my own recipe (Snail Gratin) from the snails I have to confess that the experience was better than any snails sampled in France. I disagree that they are not a delicacy in Bulgaria. This is big business but like anything else needs investment and that is what holds many enterprise back – Bar Mafia funded of course.
On a quiet patch of land apparently devoid of inhabitants, Krasimir Kostov's farm is silently booming as more than one million snails, hiding from the sun under planks of wood, munch their way to market.
"Indeed, you cannot tell ... there is a farm here. But snails do not moo," notes the suntanned breeder.
Businesses may shut by the day across Europe, and Bulgarian agriculture has been declining for 20 years, but snails — a delicacy particularly popular in France and Italy — have become a dynamic niche for the European Union's poorest country.
September is harvest season and demand is outstripping supply for "escargots", as the French call them ("ohlyuvi" in Bulgarian). The country has seized the chance to reinforce a position exporting luxury foods that are rarely consumed at home.
"This year we have orders from France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands," said Simona Mollova, consultant at the cluster.
A jar of snails with sauce weighing 0.4 kilos (14 ounces) costs 50 euros ($72), while high-quality gourmet packs fetch from 55 to 235 euros ($342) . By contrast, a kilo (2.2 pounds) of the live snails Bulgaria breeds ranges from 2.5 to 4.O ($6) euros.
France and Italy, Europe's largest consumers, devour between 25,000 to 36,000 tons of snails annually, but with the population of the prized Helix pomatiain decline in the west, the industry relies mostly on east European imports.