Beyond cantaloupe and honeydew: Diversity of melons and how to enjoy them, from breakfast to dinner

By Evan Kleiman

Summer brings us a rainbow of melons to eat, from the greens of honeydew to the orange of cantaloupe to the light green, nearly white of Persian melons. Watermelons have their own color medley of red, light orange and yellow. But those generic names — honeydew, cantaloupe, and watermelon — are just the beginning. 

For years, local farmers have been growing an expanding number of varieties that come from France, Israel, Spain and the Caucasus. Each is an example of how a well-bred melon is an exemplar of characteristics. Every part of the eating experience is enhanced, from flavor of course to texture that varies from a yielding juiciness to a crispness that can be startling when paired with aromatic flavor. 

As farmers develop new markets for these varieties, pressure is put on the grocery chains and finally more variety shows up there too. But once again, eating a farmers market melon that was picked just hours before will be the finer experience and may spoil you for supermarket melons that often offer the hope of flavor then disappoint.

The Arava melon is originally from Israel, and it’s often called the Israeli honeydew. Photo by Alexander Weiser. 

The Brilliant melon features a bright, golden yellow rind, and the ivory-yellow flesh has a firm texture and strong sweetness. Photo by Alexander Weiser. 

The Sugar Cube melon has high sugar content and never gets larger than two pounds. Photo by Alexander Weiser.   

As for how to best enjoy the melons of summer 2021, I have a few favorites. You can of course have a slice or two for breakfast or as a snack. The simplest move is to squeeze some lime juice and sprinkle a tiny bit of salt on the melon, or you could use the tart, lightly spicy Mexican seasoning Tajin. 

If you want to take the next step beyond a snack to create a dish with more heft, look to cured meats or salty cheese. There is a reason that prosciutto and melon is such a classic pairing. The rich fleshed, juicy sweetness of melon tastes even better when contrasted with salty, umami flavors. That’s also why cheeses like feta or ricotta salata are so often added to melon salads. 

The Cavaillon melon is fragrant with a high sugar content, and they’re originally from Cavallion, France. Photo by Alexander Weiser. 

The Bonny melon starts out sweet and has a tangy note. Photo by Alexander Weiser.

If you want to add an herb, mint pairs best with melon. It’s sweet and seems to coax out melon aromas rather than fight them.

I’ve shared my love of the cold, icy treat that is granita with you before. It’s especially good made with any variety of melon. If you’re not up to making a recipe even as simple as granita and you need cooling off, then simply throw together a melon agua fresca, the traditional Mexican summer drink that goes beyond lemonade. 

Finally, if I’m feeling the need for some self-care and I have a small personal size melon, I’ll cut it in half, remove the seeds and pack it with vanilla ice cream and put it back in the freezer for about a half hour or so.  Then I’ll feast on a cold, creamy, juicy treat. On days when it’s more than 90 degrees, sometimes this is dinner.

Honeydew, cantaloupe, and watermelon are just the beginning. For years, local farmers have been growing an expanding number of varieties that come from France, Israel, Spain and the Caucasus. Photo by Brian Hardzinski.