Vacation is defiantly the highlight of the summer months; for some of us, fresh-picked summer fruit is a close second. In June we had fresh local sweet red cherries, July saw big, juicy yellow peaches, and in August mouthwatering melons. Everyone has a fruit from their childhood that screams summer – for me hands down it’s watermelons! Unfortunately, for most of my youth I only knew watermelons, Cantaloupe, and Honeydew. Luckily at Bi-Rite Markets, we spend a majority of the late-summer months celebrating all the mouthwatering, vine-ripe melons that come from our favorite local farms, with anywhere from 7 to 10 varietals on our shelves at any given time!
Full Belly Farm is nestled in the heart of Yolo County and they grow a wide range of organic veggies, fruit and flowers. Melons happen to be one crop that they love to grow, and it shows in their flavor and texture. Each week we order up to 5 different varieties (each with something unique to offer) to share with our guests and let our chefs get creative in the kitchens with their melon salads. The Orchid watermelon makes heads turn: at first glance it looks like your everyday watermelon, but when you crack this bad boy open a bright yellow/orange flesh brightens your day. It’s a very juicy melon with a sweet sherbet-like flavor.
For folks who prefer a cantaloupe-like variety give the Sharlyn melon a try. This cantaloupe/ honeydew hybrid has a soft light-orange flesh and nicely balanced sweet/floral flavor. It will take any fruit salad to the next level of goodness. The green-fleshed Galia melon is a muskmelon hybrid with a succulent flesh and a sweet tropical flavor. Full Belly just started harvesting the Canary melon. The bright yellow skin almost looks like a winter squash, but once you cut it open the pineapple/banana aroma takes over. The flavor of this melon is a balance of pairs well with ginger, citrus and pretty much all other summer fruit! Sweet/tangy and the crisp flesh!
Happy Boy Farms located just in the heart of Watsonville is known for their greens and tomatoes, but their melon game has been on point the past five years. The two melons they are growing right now might be the best of the season and easily the most interesting. The Piel De Sapo “Toad Skin” melon is football shaped with a bright green-yellow striped skin. Its visual appearance defiantly stands out, and the extra-sweet and smooth flesh with a little bit of crunch is what makes it a Bi-Rite Staff favorite. The Charentais melon is a gourmet French variety that’s been farmed for over 100 years. Usually the size of a grapefruit, the Charentais has a tan-green skin with dark-green seams when perfectly ripe. Don’t let this melon fool you, the uglier it get the better is tastes. The aroma that comes off this melon is almost as enjoyable as the rich, sweet flavored orange flesh. This is the ideal melon to wrap in prosciutto.
The past couple years we’ve even dialed in our melon growing on the Bi-Rite Farm in Sonoma. Since we work directly with a handful of local farms that grow delightful melons, we’ve decide to grow more unique varieties on our farm. The Ginkau melon is a small, oval shaped Korean melon with a golden skin and crispy, smooth white flesh. The Lambkin melon is an early Peil De Sapo variety with very sweet, crisp white flesh. Later this month will be harvesting the Crane melon which originated in Sonoma County and is a super sweet, fine flavored melon.
How to Pick and Store your Melons:
One of the main reasons we buy our melons straight from local farms is that they let the melons ripen on the vine, and pick them at the prefect level of ripeness. Most of the larger farms grow varieties that can handle being shipped long distances and are harvested early, before the sugars have fully developed. At the Bi-Rite there’s always a melon that’s ripe and ready to eat.
Picking out the perfect melon can be a challenge. For muskmelons and other specialty varieties, smell the butt-end of the melon were the stem was attached and if it has a sweet and/or floral scent its ready. Also, when you are looking at a display of specialty melons the ones that have brighter color skin coming are ready (usually the greener skin indicates a less ripe melon).
These techniques do not work for watermelons – it’s much harder to pick a ripe watermelon. Try tapping on the side of the watermelon and if it sounds hollow when you tap, it’s ready (a not hollow sound usually means it’s unripe). Your best bet is to ask the produce clerk which watermelon tastes best! If you purchase a melon that is ripe and ready to eat, either take it to the park and eat that moment or take it home and put it in the fridge for a few hours to chill the flesh before you eat it. When you bring a melon home that is still a bit green, let is sit on the counter at room temp until it ripens up. If you’re not ready to eat your ripe melon store it in the fridge. However, watermelons store best at room temp. Cold temperatures can turn the flesh of watermelon to mush!