I’ll never forget the first time I had an heirloom melon.
It was the first melon I ever had that didn’t come from the supermarket. And it was so sweet, so flavorful and fragrant, that I got a little bit angry, thinking it was a crime to call this melon and the melons I’d been eating by the same name.
It was still warm from the sun—I ate it in the afternoon, just a stone’s throw from where it’d been picked just a couple of hours earlier—and the warmth surely amplified the flavors. It was sweet, definitely, but much more. Intense. Aromatic. Juicy.
Since then, the only place I buy melons is the farmers market. And happily, even though Labor Day is behind us, the farmers market is just about peaking—as is melon season.
So, a few tips for picking an amazing one (and once you do, enjoy my Melon and Chile Salad).
1. Shop at the farmers market.
You knew I was going to say this. And yes, this pretty much always my first tip for great produce, including picking a perfect peach and buying berries. It’s simply because buying close to the source makes a difference in how things taste. And unless you grow your own, the farmers market is about as close to the source as you can get.
I typically ask the farmer to pick a melon for me. I mean, if he/she doesn’t know a good one, who does? But if he/she is busy or, heaven forbid, you’re shopping someplace else, then I recommend you…
Sniff the melon, particularly where the stem used to be. That spot should be a little concave—if there’s any trace of a stem, the melon was picked before it was ripe—and if it’s moist, all the better. Mostly, though, it should be fragrant. If it doesn’t smell like a melon, it definitely won’t taste like one.
A juicy, sugary, sweet melon is a melon that’s heavy for its size. In other words, it’s heavier than others of the same size.
Melons come in a range of colors, from ivory to parchment to pistachio to jade. But whatever the color, look for a slightly yellow/golden version of it, which signals ripeness. So a netted cantaloupe will have tan-ish netting, but in between the netting you should see shades of yellow/gold, not tan and definitely not green. The pale green of a honeydew should have a slightly yellow glow to it. Even an orange-fleshed honeydew should have an amber quality to the orange skin.
Want more ways to enjoy melons? Try this Melon High-Baller from Oprah. This Pasta Salad with Melon, Pancetta, and Ricotta Salata from Bon Appétit. Or these Grilled Scallops with Honeydew-Avocado Salsa from Food & Wine.