Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Cavaillon Melon. The Best Melon in France.

Behind the French Menu.
Bryan G. Newman
Update July 2017
The Cavaillon Melon
When it is a Cavaillon Melon, it says so!

The Melon du Cavaillon is a unique melon; not just a sweet melon or a pleasant melon. This melon has a taste and fragrance that is different and you will remember your first Melon de Cavaillon when another is offered years later.  Inside a ripe Cavaillon melon, the flesh is an orange color and the taste is sweet but far from sugary. The small French town of Cavaillon in Provence around which this melon is grown has played many roles in French history.

Inside the Cavaillon melon
The Cavaillon melons are nearly round, with yellow-green skins, and uniform dark green stripes. In season, from mid-June through September, the air in an open market where they are selling these melons can be quite heady
Cavaillon is charming, and even without the melon is well worth a visit. The town has just a lover 20,000 inhabitants and is in the department of Vaucluse in the region of Provence, Alpes de Sud.  If you are traveling in the area Cavaillon is just 25 km (16 miles) from Avignon, 28 km (18 miles) from Carpentras and 20 km (13 miles) from Saint-Remy-de-Provence. 
The English language website for the area of Luberon in Provence which includes Cavaillon is:

The Cavaillon Melon on French menus:

Melon de Cavaillon au Jambon de Bayonne– Cavaillon melon served with cured Bayonne ham. Melon and cured ham is a traditional entrée, the French first course. Bayonne ham comes from the France Basque country on the border with Spain, the Pays de Basque, it is the most popular cured ham in France. The city of Bayonne is the capital of the Pays Basque.

Slices of the Cavaillon melon and Bayonne ham.
Melon de Cavaillon au Magret de Canard Fumé – Cavaillon melon served with smoked duck breast.

Melon de Cavaillon Nature – A Cavaillon melon served without any additions. Cavaillon melon served as it should be.
Melon de Cavaillon Rôti, Glace aux Calissons et Coulis de Melon au Muscat De Beaumes De Venise A roasted Cavaillon melon glazed with almond paste and crystallized melon calisson cookies served with a melon puree flavored with the glorious, sweet Muscat De Beaumes De Venise wine.   (Calissons were originally sold as part of celebrations welcoming the end of the Black Plague. The last outbreak of plague in France was the Great Plague of Marseille in 1720, and then the disease killed over 100,000).
Méli mélo de Jambon Serrano et Filet Mignon de Porc Fumé, Copeaux de ParmesanMeli Melo is a contrast in tastes and colors; here it is provided by Cavaillon melon, cured Serrano ham, smoked pork fillet, and shavings of Parmesan cheese. (The smoked pork fillet mignon offered here, is cut from the pork fillet, the US tenderloin).

Soupe Froide de Melon Cavaillon – Cold Cavaillon melon soup.
Melon soup.
Tranche de Pastèque et de Melon de Cavaillon au Jambon Cru San Leo – A slice of watermelon and Cavaillon melon served with the cured ham of San Leo. San Leo is close to Rimini on Italy's Adriatic coast.
Comparing the Cavaillon Melon with other French melons.
A restaurant with melon on the menu may be serving great fruit, but if it was a Cavaillon melon, you may be sure its name would be on the menu.  Equally, when the markets and supermarkets are selling the real thing every Cavaillon melon will be labeled.  Other melons may be delicious; but, the Cavaillon melon holds one grade above excellent.  Cavaillon claims that their land, their terroir, makes this a unique melon.  Their seeds grown elsewhere will produce delicious melons, but it will not be a Cavaillon melon. The Cavaillon melon has that je ne sais quoi, that something the others do not.

The Confrérie and the Cavaillon melon.
Protecting the Cavaillon melon from cheap imports is the Confrérie des Chevaliers de l'Ordre du Melon de Cavaillon, the Brother, and Sisterhood of the Knights of the Order of the Cavaillon melon.  These brave knights work to advance the cause of the Cavaillon melon, identify the competition and explain the differences.  Notwithstanding their work, long before this confrérie came into being the Cavaillon melon had already attracted the attention of French gourmets, and that was over 150 years ago.
It's great fun to dress up in would be ancient costumes
 and then march through town promoting a melon.

Above are members of the Confrérie de Chevaliers du Melon de Cavillon.
Photograph courtesy of Véronique Pagnier

The Count of Monte Christo and the Cavaillon melon
The author of the Count of Monte Christo and the Three Musketeers was Alexandre Dumas, Père. Dumas was internationally renowned for his over 400 works and in France was equally respected as a gourmet, and he loved Cavaillon melons.  Dumas Père loved Cavaillon melons so much that he offered the municipal library of Cavaillon a copy of every one of his published works; at that time that was over 300 separate works, in exchange for 12 Cavaillon melons a year for life.  The council accepted the offer, but Dumas Père felt he had the best part of the agreement. Dumas also wrote two books on French cuisine, the larger of the two is Dumas’s Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, The Great Dictionary of Cuisine. Dumas’s Grand Dictionnaire has been translated into English in an excellent, concise version called Dumas on Food by Alan and Jane Davidson, printed by Oxford University Press.

Alexandre Dumas, Père.

Cavaillon is situated on the edge of the Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon, the Luberon Regional Nature Park. The park has a French language website but is easily understood using the Google or Microsoft translate apps:
If you are in Provence in early July do not miss their Fête du Melon, their melon fete held on the Friday and Saturday preceding the 14th of July, Bastille Day, Le Quatorze Juillet, check the dates. Bastille Day, Le Quatorze Juillet in French is the most important of all French National Holidays.
The Fête de Melon, Cavaillon
Photograph courtesy of La Cuisine du Marché
The town of Cavaillon has a long history, and as the Romans were here, maybe they brought the first melons. Many Cantaloupe type melons are linked to their origins in Italy where they developed from fruits, introduced by the Romans, that came from Armenia and Persia.  Exploring the town, you will find a 1st-century Roman arch
Remains of the 1st Century Roman Arch
Explore more, and you will find the remains of a 12th-century Cathedral including a Cloister.
Remains of the 12th-century Cathedral.

The whole area was, from 1229 to 1791, a separate Papal State called Comtat Venaissin. From 1309 to 1377  the Popes ruled the Roman Catholic world from Avignon.

Map of the Comtat Venaissin
Photograph courtesy of ChrisO.
As opposed to much of the rest of Europe the Jews of this area were protected by the Popes who ruled the Comtat Venaissin, Look around some more, and you will find a reconstructed 18th-century synagogue, now a museum,  the Musée Juif Comtadin, the museum of the history of the Jews of Comtadin.
The reconstruction of an 18th-century synagogue.
Photograph by courtesy of Shoshanah.
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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2017.
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