The melon that Americans call cantaloupe is truly a muskmelon. True cantaloupes are mainly grown in
Europe and have a rough, warty surface quite different from the melons grown in the United States. The
American "cantaloupe" is the most nutritious melon of all and is related to the squash family,
somewhere between the winter and summer squash in terms of nutrition.
Cantaloupes have the high water content and low calorie count of the summer squash and the high levels
of beta-carotene, potassium and Vitamin C found in the winter squash like pumpkins and butternut
Cantaloupes grow best in warm to hot weather. California is the number-one melon supplier. In the peak
of the melon season from June through October the San Joaquin Valley in central California supplies 95%
of the cantaloupes bought in North America. Most imports come from Mexico and Central America,
particularly Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Selection and Storage
The netting on the cantaloupe, that raised surface all around the melon, should cover the melon completely. Avoid very small cantaloupes, less than 5 inches in diameter, and ones with a large bald or smooth spot on their surface. However, it's all right for one side of the netting to be bleached where the melon touched the ground. Look for cantaloupes that have a smooth stem end or "full slip," illustrating that the melon detached from the stem of the plant naturally, with little effort. An unacceptable "half-slip" detachment will leave some stem fibers at the end.
It is also important to look for melons that have a good fragrance, because if it smells good, it will usually taste good. Melons should be firm with a little give, not overly soft, which means the melon is overripe. This is particularly true of the stem end, which should yield to pressure but not be soft or mushy. Good moisture content means that the melon will be heavy for its size. Shake the melon; if you hear liquid sloshing around inside, the melon is probably overripe. Avoid melons that show cracks, shriveling, or other obvious signs of poor quality.
Melons will ripen after they are picked, but their sugar content won't increase. It will take up to four days for melons to ripen at room temperature. Because melons are ethylene sensitive, they will ripen more rapidly in the presence of ethylene-producing fruit such as bananas and pears.
Don't refrigerate melons unless they become too ripe or have been cut. Whole ripe or cut melons should be stored at between 40°F and 45°F, and a whole ripe melon will last in the refrigerator about three days. Leave the seeds inside a cut melon until you're ready to eat it, to help keep the melon moist. Cut melons should be tightly wrapped, and always taste better if they are brought to room temperature before you eat them. Melons don't freeze well.
It is suggested that you wash cantaloupes thoroughly before slicing to remove any potential bacteria. The easiest way to enjoy a melon is to cut it in half, remove the seeds, and eat a half or quarter (depending on its size), scooping out the flesh with a teaspoon.
To cube a cantaloupe, quarter the cantaloupe lengthwise and slice off the usable fruit from the rind with a sharp knife, and then cube as desired. Another method is to slice off the rind with a sharp chef's knife and slice lengthwise (to the desired width), and cut crosswise into cubes. This method works best when you have a lot of melon cubes to do.
Cantaloupe balls can be scooped right from a melon half without removing the rind. Melon ballers come in various sizes and are handy not just for melons, but for other fruits as well. A twist of the wrist and a little twirl will give you pretty, round shapes.
Make a classic hors d'oeuvre by wrapping cubed melon in a thin slice of prosciutto, and securing with a toothpick, or for a first course, lay a few thin slices of cantaloupe across a plate, and drape or lightly wrap sheer slices of prosciutto over them.
If you discover that a cantaloupe is not quite ripe after you've cut it open, it can be rescued with some orange or melon liqueur, orange or other citrus juice, a little sugar, and maybe some minced candied ginger for added flavor. Overripe melon can be used for cold melon soup or a smoothie with some yogurt, honey, and orange juice.
If the flesh of a cut melon has a clear or watery look, it's probably overripe.
Tony's Favorite Recipe
Cantaloupes belong to the type of muskmelons that have a netted skin, which includes the Persian and Santa Claus melons, unlike the smooth skinned muskmelons Honeydew, Crenshaw and Casaba. Its characteristic oval shape has a raised sand-colored, netting, over a slightly golden background, and orange flesh. California cantaloupe varieties include Top Mark, PMR 45, Hymark, and Mission, and Ectra Sweet Tuscan Style.
EXTRA SWEET TUSCAN-STYLETM cantaloupes are a brilliant orange color with distinctive green grooves that become lighter in color the riper the melon becomes. Its full, rich flavor is outstanding sweet. They provide folate, vitamin C, and antioxidants.