Look beyond honeydew and cantaloupe for more exciting flavors
My recent 100-kilometer walking pilgrimage along the Portuguese Camino in northwestern Spain from Vigo to Santiago de Compostela was fueled each morning by no fewer than three cured pork products (shoulder, loin, and spicy chorizo sausage); three regional raw cow’s milk cheeses named Arzùa-Ulloa, Queso Tetilla, and San Simón da Costa; and three types of very sweet, juicy melon.
The only details I can report about the melons is that the flesh was white, orange, and pale green in color. The buffet table had no labels, and my Spanish is too weak to ask questions with 50 possible answers.
The nearly 50 types of melons grown commercially worldwide are divided into two types: watermelons (Citrullus lanatus) with their green to yellow skin and watery red, orange-to-yellow pulp; and sugar melons (Cucumis melo) that come in a variety of shapes, sizes, skin textures, and flesh colors. This latter category includes most of the cantaloupes and honeydews widely available in grocery stores across the US.
The most popular melon in the world, according to tasteatlas.com, is Piel de Sapo. The name translates to “toad skin,” a nod to the bumpy, dark green rind. Native to central Spain and South America, the flesh of this sugar melon variety ranges in color from pale green to white—when ripe its sweet fragrance can fill the room. Now widely grown in California and better known as Santa Claus melons, they are harvested there late spring through mid-fall, but peak in high summer. This melon can be used in tarts, sauces, fruit salads, gazpachos, and cocktails; and it pairs well with cured meat, olive oil, and creamy cheeses.
The second most popular melon in the world is Melon du Quercy, a cantaloupe that carries a EU Protected Geographical Indication in honor of the lime and clay terroir of the regions of Tarn et Garonne and Lot in the southwest of France. Its orange flesh is sweet with notes of honey and has a melt-in-the-mouth texture. A great summer fruit, it’s typically eaten sliced, paired with cured meat, duck, and port wine. The sweetest cantaloupes found here that can compete with this French variety are called Sugar Cubes.
The third most popular melon in the world is the Barattiere, a variety that hails from Puglia in southern Italy and is also widely grown in Tunisia. Round, with a green-to-yellow peel and a crispy, watery, pale-green interior that turns pink as it matures, it’s described as having the texture of a melon and a flavor akin to cucumber. Barattiere is best when still fresh and green, and it’s often served as a palate cleanser or is added to salad. The Galia melon, a hybrid cross between a green-flesh melon and a netted-rind one (the kind you’re used to seeing on grocery store cantaloupes), is grown throughout the southeastern US and also has a cucumber-like flavor.
As summer rolls around and melons are at their peak, branch out from your usual choices to find ones that resemble those most enjoyed worldwide.
Melon and Strawberry Gazpacho
- 2 cups (1-inch cubes) cantaloupe
- 2 cups (1-inch cubes) seedless watermelon
- 2 cups (1-inch cubes) Galia melon
- 2 cups strawberries hulled
- 1 cup (1-inch cubes) fresh tomato
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- Pinch of cayenne
- olive oil
- 2 ounces honeyed goat cheese
- 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno
- mint leaves
- Place melons, strawberries, tomato, lime juice, and cayenne in a blender and purée until smooth. Refrigerate until chilled. Season with salt to taste and pour into chilled bowls.
- Garnish with a swirl of olive oil and a sprinkle each of cucumber, goat cheese, jalapeno and mint leaves.