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Friday, September 28, 2012

France’s To-Die-For Melon


I’m in Provence and have timed my visit perfectly for the height of the Cavaillon melon season. If you’ve ever smelled a Cavaillon, you’re an instant devotee. The melon is named after the town of Cavaillon, about 20 miles east of Avignon.  (If you’ve not been to Provence, that would be about 50 miles north of the Mediterranean).  For any foodie, a sojourn to Cavaillon during the melon period should be on your Bucket List.  You’ll know you’re in the right place when you enter the town of Cavaillon…there’s a 9- ton sculpture of a melon to greet you. 

Melons have been cultivated in Cavaillon since 1495 and there have been many lovers of the area’s delicious melons throughout history.  In 1864, Alexandre Dumas (author of The Count of Monte CristoThe Three Musketeers, etc.), donated all 194 of his published works to the city of Cavaillon on just one condition:  that he be sent 12 melons each year for perpetuity.  The town fathers were delighted to grant Dumas his request, and until his death in 1870 a dozen melons were dispatched to the author every summer.

Cavaillon melon has become internationally famous.  San Francisco Bay Area farmers’ markets have been selling a melon called Cavaillon for nearly 10 years…but they are only a distant cousin.  You should be able to smell a true Cavaillon from 10 feet away.  When its cut, the intoxicating fragrance should envelop you.  One bite, and the authentic Cavaillon would seduce you completely.  Regrettably, none of this is true for the knock-off from California.  While they are good (as are many California cantaloupes), they simply can’t compete with the real thing.

I love to eat Cavaillon plain, however, I have to say that the best dish I’ve ever had with the melon was a cold soup at Chateau Taluad in Provence, just miles from the town of Cavaillon (Wine-Knows has leased the entire chateau for the 2013 Harvest Tour to France.)  The owner, who trained with many of France’s Michelin star chefs, developed the glorious recipe---you can be assured that the Cavaillon soup will be on the dinner menu the first night we arrive at the chateau.

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