France is home to arguably some of the greatest foods in the world. Immediately one is likely to conjure images of croissants, cheese, charcuterie…yet it is time that we acknowledge an unheralded and unassuming champion. It is time that we acknowledge the Cavaillon Melon.
Nestled in the bucolic landscape of Provence, the charming town of Cavaillon resembles a postcard with a jagged landscape hinting quietly at the sea nearby.
So much of the identity of Cavaillon seems to be tied up in its melons. Thought to be brought to the region from Italy during the 14th century when the papacy relocated to France, the seeds flourished in their new climate. Sweet and aromatic, the melons fragrance the air of the region throughout its peak months, becoming enticingly omnipotent as the summer drags on. Tourists flock to the town, eager to find the perfect specimen. It will smell rich and sweet, and feel surprisingly heavy for its size. The Cavaillon Melon is also an aesthetic treat, donning a rich green color with vibrant blue/green stripes – 10 of them. Nine or 11, it has been argued, may indicate that it is under ripe or past its prime.
Melon, bottom right – NINE STRIPES.
Cavaillon’s most famous resident and avid melon fan was the author of several celebrated novels, including “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Muskateers”. In 1864, Alexandre Dumas received a letter from the town asking if he might consider donating some of his works to the public library. Ever a gentleman, he responded:
“Have the kindness to inform Monsieur Tourel, your honourable Mayor, that I agree on one condition: if the town and the Cavaillon authorities think highly of my books, I also love their melons and I would like, in exchange for my 300 or 400 volumes, that a bylaw be passed awarding me a life annuity of 12 Cavaillon melons a year.”
The town agreed, and sadly, the great author only ever enjoyed 72 melons.
The beloved Cavaillon Melon has been celebrated for centuries in various incarnations, be it in a cucumber soup, wrapped in ham or simply as is. And being such a simple yet integral facet of the local culture, one might be hard pressed to find a more quaint or delightful reason to visit any place.