French Melons: an A to Z guide03-07-2018
It’s the ultimate summer “fruit”. Packed with sunshine and sweetness, an excellent addition to any tasty summer starter, melons are a definite crowd-pleaser.
Like the courgette, watermelon and even the humble cucumber, melons belong to the cucurbit or gourd family. Despite the common misconception of being a pseudo-fruit due to their sweet flavour, melons sit firmly in the vegetable camp. There are 250 types of melon grown in France, in a broad spectrum of flavours, shapes and colours. The most popular, and the variety currently adorning shelves across France, is the “Charentais”, which is not associated with any particular geographical origin, as the melons are grown in various regions up and down the country. France is one of Europe’s major melon producers, with an annual production of around 300,000 tonnes (Source Agreste – 2010-2014 5-yr average). Poitou-Charentes in south west France accounts for 23% of production, and as such is the largest producer, closely followed by Midi-Pyrenees and Languedoc Roussillon, each accounting for 19%.
Melons are mainly enjoyed throughout the summer months. The star ingredient of light dishes pervades market stalls and supermarket shelves with its intense aromas from June to September. Choosing a good melon is very straightforward. Pick up a melon of your choice and give it a good sniff; no particular smell means the fruit is not sufficiently ripe, and needs to remain at room-temperature for another couple of days to allow the aromas to fully develop. If the melon smells pleasantly strong and sweet, it is ripe for the picking, and can be eaten the same day or the day after. Avoid storing melons in the fridge, as the cold temperature will shock the fragrant aromas into submission.
How to enjoy melon
Eating melon is a simple pleasure. Just cut in half, scoop out the pips using a large spoon and throw away, and either enjoy the juicy flesh immediately as it is, or cut into quarters and remove the skin. It is a firm favourite served with pre-dinner drinks cut into chunks, or as a starter with salad and cured ham (Jambon de Bayonne for example), or even for dessert to finish your meal on a sweet note. Otherwise, why not try…
- A chilled soup: blend the flesh with the juice of a lemon. Enjoy well chilled.
- As a sorbet: make a puree and add flavoured sugar syrup such as strawberry or grenadine (pomegranate)
- In a fruit salad: with banana, strawberries, peaches and apricots, plus a generous handful of mixed herbs such as mint, basil and lemon verbena
- Melon brochettes: alternate a chunk of melon with a cherry tomato, mozzarella ball or diced ham
- In a savoury salad: alongside lettuce, grated carrot and a vinegar-based dressing.
And the list goes on…
For more ideas, the French Melon Association (SIPMM) has a whole range of recipes available on its website: https://lemelondenosregions.fr/des-melons-et-des-recettes
Eating melon abroad
Every year some of France’s production is exported around the world, mainly to Europe. Belgium accounts for 37% of exports, followed by Switzerland with 30% and Italy. (Source: GTA/French Customs, for France Agrimer).
Did you know?
Melon is the third most popular vegetable in France, with an average 6kg consumed per household every year. (Source: Interfel).
Melon Festival in Cavaillon
The Feria du Melon, Cavaillon’s traditional festival celebrating all things melon, takes place every year at the beginning of July. Over two days, festivities are a fusion of Provencal tradition, local flavour and bull-running. Events include various abrivado, where bulls are released alongside a mass of stunning white horses, local market, a colourful procession with a float drawn by 16 horses, and culminates on the Saturday evening with a huge concert in Place Leon Gambetta. Not forgetting the Roussaitaio, when 100 wild horses are released into the streets of the town centre, encircled by their majestic riders, wowing crowds of all ages. Melons of course have a starring role, and are available both to try and buy throughout the festival.