What's In Season

Summer’s Other Melon

Buy it fresh and treat it right, and cantaloupe may become your favorite bite of the season

photo: John Burgoyne

In the 1930s, North Carolina wasn’t just known for barbecue and scuppernongs. It was also famous for growing a spectacularly sweet summer treat: cantaloupe. Planted by German settlers in the small community of Ridgeway, the melon quickly became known as the “Ridgeway cantaloupe” (a forerunner of the hybrids we enjoy today) and went from local farm stands to plates at the country’s fanciest restaurants, including the one at New York’s Waldorf Astoria. Perhaps most famously, the melons were served at the White House when King George VI met with Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939, shortly before World War II. These days, California produces about 75 percent of all cantaloupes grown in the United States, but the fruit remains a summer favorite across the South. “When I was growing up, my dad grew cantaloupes in our garden in the mountains of North Carolina,” says Annie Pettry, owner and executive chef at Decca in Louisville. “I used to love biting into a ripe cantaloupe, freshly plucked from his garden, still warm from the sun, its juice running farther down my wrists with each bite.” If you pick one up at the farmers’ market, make sure it’s heavy for its size and fragrant at the stem, and that the skin beneath the trademark netting is yellow or cream-colored. For prep, cantaloupe is delicious raw, grilled, or blended into a gazpacho…or a margarita. It doesn’t take much to make its flavor sing. “You can’t go wrong with a sprinkle of salt, chile, and lime zest,” Pettry says, “or for a summer grill-out, brush slices of cantaloupe with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, grill on both sides over a hot grill, and serve with burrata cheese, torn basil leaves, a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lime juice, and lime zest.” And if you want the original, you can still score an authentic Ridgeway cantaloupe if you visit the Holtzmann family’s farm stand on Route 1, or the Ridgeway Cantaloupe Festival held every July. Just be sure to bring a napkin, or two, to wipe your chin. 


THE CHEF RECOMMENDS

Cantaloupe with Whipped Feta

Yield: 8–10 servings

Ingredients

8 oz. feta cheese
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 cantaloupe
3 tbsp. orange blossom honey
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. sumac
2 tbsp. fresh chives, minced
12 mint leaves, torn
Zest of 1 orange

 

Preparation

Crumble the feta into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add cream and lemon juice and whip for about 1 minute to combine. Slice the cantaloupe in half, and scrape out seeds. With the cut side down on a cutting board, trim off the skin with a sharp knife. Cut each half in two, and slice thinly into quarter moons. Spread out the whipped feta over the bottom of a platter large enough for all the melon. Fan out the melon over the feta. Drizzle with honey and olive oil. Sprinkle evenly with salt, sumac, chives, mint, and orange zest.

 

Tip: If the melon’s skin is still a bit green, let it ripen on the counter a little longer before slicing.


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