Nutmeg barely tolerates melons, in her opinion, the green honeydew version found in airport “fruit salads” should be outlawed. Watermelon and its variations without seeds or in ghastly yellow only belong on a picnic table with many children around.
The orange cantaloupe is the only melon that Nutmeg will consider eating. Like much of the produce in Provence, “you don’t know what you have been missing” until you have sampled a slice of melon from the fields near Cavaillon. According to the University of California Berkley Wellness website, the Charentais varietal is described as follows “This French melon, a type of European cantaloupe, has orange flesh and a smooth gray-green skin with green stripes running from stem to blossom end.”
How to select a melon?
According to M. Melon (see below) according to these criteria; weight (the heavier, the better) and the stem should be loose with tiny cracks so the perfumed aroma can escape. In the case of the Charentais melon, the number of green stripes is also a ripeness clue – ideally, you want a count of 10. This melon is an orange-fleshed gourd, is a sweet cousin of the potimarron (red kuri) squash and the courge (a butternut varietal that looks like a Halloween pumpkin).
Melons have been a mainstay of the economy in Cavaillon since the 14th century when the popes, who directed Catholic church activities from Avignon, also influenced much of the local agriculture. The word cantaloupe comes from Italian cantalupo (“howling wolves”) and the melon variety grown in the region at that time is believed to have been cultivated from seeds of fruit first cultivated in the Italian town of the same name.
Since the 1920s, the melon grown near Cavaillon is the Charentais variety, which originates from the home of Cognac the Charentes region of France. This precious and somewhat delicate fruit remains such an essential element of Cavaillon’s commercial trade that the city’s principal round-about boasts a 9-ton concrete melon statue. This melon is so revered that in 1988, the Knights of the Order of the Melon were established, known as the Conférie des Chevaliers de l’Ordre du Melon these passionate men and women are dedicated to promoting what else?
Like many towns in Provence ripe produce is a perfect reason to celebrate. Cavaillon recently renamed its long-standing melon festival to the Féria du Melon à Cavaillon. This festival now honours the orange fruit with a little Spanish-bodega-meets-the-bull-ring style. Why not have a little fun? After all, this melon has to be hand-harvested at the hottest time of the year.
Bliss Travels founder Wendy Jaeger, served up an afternoon of golden orange fun in Cavaillon. Starting with a visit to the melon festival vendor stands, a sojourn to “M. Melon’s” kitchen – Michelin star chef Jean-Jacques Prévôt – for a cooking demonstration, ringside seats at a Course Camarguaise (video here) and an aperitif surrounded by vestiges of Romans.
Nutmeg has changed her tune on melons thanks to Bliss Travels!