CHARENTAIS & HEIRLOOM MELONS
Many years ago traveling in France, I discovered a remarkable tasting melon. It was small or what some might call personal sized, or about the size of a softball; had the most intense melon flavor I have ever tasted. I wrote the first one off as fluke, a great discovery one day in France.

The next tiny melon I spied on a different trip was at an outdoor market in Paris. The farmer had several baskets of them, same size but varying stripes and shades of green and yellow. He coincidentally was from the same region I had originally discovered the tiny melons. When I inquired as to the type of melon the farmer told me it was a cavaillon (ca-vi-lon) or charentais melon (cher-un-tay). My French, not as good as it should have been to have this conversation, I inquired as to the varieties and I think he told me petit gris Rennes and melon de Trest. From then on I was hooked.

Defined, a charentais melon is a type of cantaloupe (Cucumis melo var. cantalupensis). It is similar to cantaloupe but with a more fragrant smell. Developed in France around 1920 as a more refined cantaloupe. Characteristically, they will be the size of a softball, green or yellow exterior with stripes and will have an unforgettable fragrance and taste.

The next time I saw the melons was at an outdoor market in Martinique. These were not as good as the ones I had in France, but close enough. This led me to think I could grow these at home. Since then I have researched these melons and found that they have primarily been grown only in Provence, about 80% of them. Anything found outside of Provence is not as sweet so they say...

HEIRLOOM  MELONS

You just can't get a good melon around here anymore, so in 2015 we started growing them. Adams County seems to have a great climate for melons. Who knew?

We chose unusual, heirloom varieties and were very pleased with the results. I chose a muskmelon variety, a hybrid personal size cantaloupe, two charentais types and a specialty type melon. All did very well, most were sweet. The heirloom varieties we tried were sweeter and we intend to concentrate on these.

Going to market with our unusual melons was fun, and educational for our frequent buyers. Many had never seen what we were offering and were thrilled to give them a try.

Is it cantaloupe or muskmelon?

There is technically a difference, but often the names are used interchangeably. The term cantaloupe refers to two varieties of muskmelon. What we typically call a cantaloupe is the North American cantaloupe it has a net-like appearance on the skin. The other variety, European cantaloupe, has ribbed light green skin and looks nothing like what we commonly call cantaloupe.

While both of these cantaloupe varieties are muskmelons, not all muskmelons are cantaloupes. The name muskmelon comes from the sweet fragrance of the ripe fruit. The term musk comes from a Persian word for perfume, and melon is a French word. Muskmelons, including cantaloupe are native to Persia, which is present-day Iran.

At the turn of the 20th century the French began experimenting with muskmelons and started producing the French charentais varieties we know today. Going forward we plan to continue to improve our melon offerings choosing American and European heirloom varieties which were popular at the turn of the 20th century.

Melons for the Passionate Grower

 


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