IT'S the ultimate slow food. Traditionally thought of as continental delicacy, it seems snails are crawling their way across the channel on to British plates.

For according to latest statistics, UK consumers are demanding mollusc meat in growing quantities.

Dorset Snails, a family-run firm based near Wimborne, supplies both snails and ‘snail caviar’ (the snail’s eggs) to restaurants, retail and private clients including Russian billionaires and ladies of the realm.

David Walker who runs the business with his wife Jennie and son Tony, says they now supply snails all over the world.

"We have been sending snails over to Hong Kong for about a year now. We pride ourselves in providing good quality, freshly prepared snails. Tinned snails, which you often find in France, could be years old."

Dorset Snails is one of the biggest UK snail farms breeding thousands of snails at their farm at Witchampton - although the exact location is a closely guarded secret.

The family even turned down an offer from BBC's Countryfile to feature Dorset Snails on the popular programme.

"We don't want anyone copying us," says Jennie. Her only tip is that baby snails seems to like the colour blue.

"When they are tiny, the snails go into cat litter trays and the ones in blue trays always seem to grow bigger!"

David says the trick is to kid them that it's spring time to encourage the snails to breed.

"The little devils are quite clever though, because they can identify the state of the moon. They will lay better when there is a half moon than a full moon."

The family used to farm worms for the fishing tackle trade until 2006, when David's son Tony saw a programme by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay about a snail farm.

"This chap was running one day courses so Tony and I went along to learn the basics, but it took two years of testing to get it right," David explains.

In 2012 Dorset Snails opened a separate processing unit at Uddens Trading Estate kitted out with large walk in chiller cabinets to keep the snails in a state of hibernation.

Although David and Jennie admit they don't eat as many snails as they used to, they say their son Tony eats a couple every day.

Jennie: "Our son Tony eats them every day for lunch. My favourite recipe is to serve them with Gorgonzola.

"These snails were alive this morning. The difference is how we cook them too. All of our snails are blanched and then de-shelled.

"To cook them we seal the meat into a vacuum-packed bag together with butter and herbs, which is placed into a water bath at 96 degrees for two and half hours.

He adds: "It's a five day process to purify them. Our snails are slow-cooked - it's the ultimate slow food!"