When an escargot farmer sets a plate full of cargolade in front of you and tells you to eat, you don’t refuse. But after lining up my sixth empty snail shell on the table I eye the plate of about 40 grilled snails, seasoned with salt, pepper and aioli, with an uneasy stomach.
Across from me, Stéphane Ferrat, owner of La Ferme aux Escargots in Estoher, expertly slides the snail meat out from each shell, and pops it into his mouth, one after the other after the other. On my left his wife, Nathalie works preparing a treasure hunt for a group of children who are visiting their farm. She munches on bread spread with an escargot pate. Conversation flows easily between us, a mix of English and French with the occasional rifle through a French language dictionary. We talk about their work farming snails, Nathalie’s various escargot recipes, their son, and what the French word for goat teats is. In America you hear a lot about the quality of Southern hospitality, but I’m willing to bet it can’t hold a candle to hospitableness of this French family. Recently I had the opportunity to spend two days with the Ferrat family on their farm about 40 miles outside of Perpignan in the beautiful countryside of the South of France. Although I came with my reporter’s notebook, a list of nosy questions and a video camera, I received a warm welcome into their home.
Despite having finished the previous day’s work at 3 a.m. only to wake up four hours later to prepare for the arrival of more than 20 children, both Stéphane and Nathalie were more animated and energetic than me. As the second day winds down, I ask them if having me and my camera hovering over their shoulders while they worked had been bothersome. They both cut me off with exclamations of “Non, non, non!” Stéphane grasps my hands and says, “For Nathalie and me it is like (a) holiday having you here.” When we lose track of time while discussing the business of the farm and the French national economy I end up missing the bus I had planned to take back to Perpignan that afternoon. I tell them I don’t mind waiting in town for the next bus so that they can get back to business. “Ce n’est pas un problème,” Stéphane says, taking me along as he delivers 100 fresh snails to a client in the nearby town of Finestret. Careening around one sharp turn after another on our way back to the farm, Stéphane tells me I’m right to say the French are crazy drivers. As his white Land Rover nears 60 miles per hour he tells me he’s not the exception but to trust him anyway. I laugh, cross my fingers and soak in what I can see of the scenery flying by. While we wait for the next bus they take turns asking me about myself and my life back home. They ask about my parents, my siblings, my boyfriend, and what I want to do in life. Stéphane asks me if I want to start growing snails in America. As we say our goodbyes for the second time that day I’m touched by how welcoming they have been to me. “Now you have family in France,” Stéphane tells me.