When chef Taylor Knapp set out to add fresh escargot to his bill of fare, but could only find canned snails, he saw an opportunity.
Knapp, of Greenport, has partnered with Sean Nethercott, of Southold, on a new venture: a Cutchogue snail farm selling fresh escargot that never sees a can. They have turned to the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to raise the startup capital necessary to get their business, Peconic Escargot, off the ground.
Knapp is the chef at First and South in Greenport, an American cuisine restaurant that uses fresh, domestic ingredients.
“We’re taking the fish and the meat and the produce that grows around us and were utilizing them in fresh new ways.” he said. The Johnson & Wales-trained chef said he is looking forward to doing the same with escargot. “I’m excited to be able to work with some fresh product.”
“Nobody in the U.S. is really selling it fresh,” Nethercott said. “There are maybe two or three others, on the West Coast — nobody on the East Coast does it.”
The business partners met when Knapp was the sous chef at Luce & Hawkins in Jamesport and Nethercott was working there as a server. Nethercott is also a real estate agent and he owned his own restaurant in Mattituck, Amazon Grill. Knapp said Nethercott has the business acumen for obtaining land and forming a company, “and he’s a food-lover as well,” so they made a good match.
To even think about establishing a snail farm, they faced red tape.
“It’s a lot of legwork with the USDA,” Nethercott said. “We’ve gone through all that.”
“We’re doing it the right way,” Knapp said. “We’ve been talking with the USDA the whole way [and] the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.”
Nethercott explained that escargot snails, helix asperse, are considered an invasive species, so while they are raised free range in Italy and France, in Cutchogue they will be securely confined to a greenhouse. The USDA required paperwork, questionnaires and technical drawings to demonstrate they can contain the snails, he said.
Regulations prohibit Peconic Escargot from delivering live snails to kitchens, so they will be blanched and vacuum-sealed. The escargot won’t be slimy like snails canned in water, Nethercott said.
Knapp said the snails will be fed fresh vegetables and foraged greens, and plants will grow alongside them to provide food and shelter in the greenhouse.
In Italy and France, some farms “finish” snails on a diet of basil, which will affect the flavor of the escargot, Knapp said. Because “Peconic” translates to “nut tree,” he would like to finish Peconic Escargot on acorns or peanuts.
They plan to market Peconic Escargot not just on the East End, but also to restaurants in New York City, Chicago and Boston.
Knapp’s vision is that a chef will be able to click a button one night and have fresh escargot at his door the next day.
Knapp and Nethercott have a lease agreement in place for 1 acre of land owned by the Peconic Land Trust, located on Main Road in Cutchogue.
Peconic Escargot’s Kickstarter goal is $35,000, and by Monday afternoon they had already received 67 commitments amounting to $5,427, with 21 days to go in the campaign. If they do not meet the goal, the backers will not be charged for their pledges.
Knapp said the greenhouse will be the biggest cost, including fans, double doors, heaters and humidifiers. Other expenses will be soil, nutrients, a vacuum sealing machine, and instruments such as thermometers and hydrometers. They plan to start with 1,000 live snails, which will propagate to sustain the business.
A $5 pledge gets a Peconic Escargot bumper sticker that reads “Eat More Snails.” For $12, backers receive a snail shell fashioned to be a fortune cookie with a one-of-a-kind fortune. T-shirts that read Peconic Escargot on the front and “Eat. More. Snails.” on the back are available for a $25 pledge, and aprons that say, “I’d rather be cooking Peconic Escargot” are $45.
Those looking to get their hands on the escargot itself can reserve a quarter pound for $30, plus an escargot recipe booklet. For $100, backers get a full pound, plus a T-shirt, bumper sticker and an apron. A private tour of the snail farm, plus a T-shirt and pound of escargot is available for a $250 pledge.
The premium pledge levels are $500 for a year’s supply of escargot, delivered monthly, $1,000 for a private cooking lesson with Knapp, $1,500 for a farm tour and a picnic prepared by Knapp, $2,200 for both the cooking lesson and picnic, and $5,000 for a private tasting menu prepared by Knapp four times over the course of a year.
Knapp said that if the snail farm gets off the ground, they expect to have their first harvest within a year.