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Meet the maker: the farmer reviving Vienna's passion for snails

In Vienna, Andreas Gugumuck is reviving a long-forgotten tradition by cultivating farm-to-fork snails.

Published 30 Apr 2021, 18:00 BST, Updated 15 Jun 2021, 13:44 BST
Snails found a new champion in Andreas, who quit his job in IT and started tinkering ...

Snails found a new champion in Andreas, who quit his job in IT and started tinkering with historic Viennese recipes in his kitchen.

Photograph by Barbara Dür

At first glance, Gugumuck farm seems stuck in a time warp — all wooden crates, baskets and long grass. But the 400-year-old farmstead, in Rothneusiedl, on Vienna’s southern outskirts, has found itself a centre for innovation. Over the past decade, owner Andreas Gugumuck has resurrected Viennese escargot — the height of fashion in the early 1800s.

“I’m like a snail missionary,” says the 46-year-old, Austria’s only snail farmer. He’s certainly dressed the part, in braces, flat cap and muddy boots. “Vienna was once the world capital of snail consumption — more so than Paris — and I’ve been fighting to put snails back on dinner plates for the past 10 years.”

Snails once held an elevated place in Austrian culture. Popularised during Lent (because it was forbidden for monks to eat meat), they were eaten by people from all walks of life. From the historic snail market behind St Peter’s Church, where they were baked and fried with speck and sauerkraut, to aristocratic dinner parties in imperial palaces, escargot was a quintessential Viennese ingredient. Caramelised snails were even a prized dessert.

Each variety of snail has a distinctive flavour, from earthy to buttery to nutty.

Photograph by Getty Images

Having fallen out of favour, snails have found a new champion in Andreas. In the mid-2000s, he was an IT project manager who, fed up with “spreadsheets and producing nothing”, started tinkering with historic Viennese recipes in his kitchen. Before long, Andreas had given up his career, taken over the farm left to him by his grandparents and bought 20,000 snails. 

It was a gamble, but within a year of opening in 2014, the city’s chefs were won over; today, Andreas supplies dozens of restaurants, as well as hosting a biannual snail festival. His farm is home to a bistro and bar, and over 300,000 snails; the classic Burgundy species, plus large and small Mediterranean varieties. Each has a distinctive flavour, from earthy to buttery to nutty, and by-products at the farm shop include snail liver, smoked snails and snail caviar.

Andreas is convinced the snail revival can spark a change in how Austrians produce and consume food. “Snail meat has four times the protein of beef, yet snails use far less land, water and feed,” he says. “It’s sustainable, eco-conscious cultivation, and it helps save the planet. And, of course, the snails are absolutely delicious.”

Farm tours (May to October) cost €19/£17 per person and include a tasting and a glass of wine.

Three ways to eat snails
 

1. Snail season
The best time to buy snails is between April and October, when they’re hibernating, because in order to be edible they need not to have eaten for at least a week.

2. Simple cooking
Mix with salt, then boil for 10 minutes to soften the meat. Only then should they be plucked from their shells.

3. Viennese-style
The classic preparation is to cook the snail meat in a bouillabaisse, with gemischten satz wine, parsley, thyme, carrots and salt. After simmering, the dish is baked, fried or sautéed.

Love food and travel? Taste the world at the National Geographic Traveller Food Festival, our immersive culinary event taking place on 16-17 July 2022 at London’s Business Design Centre. Find out more and book your tickets.

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