A delectably saccharine, fragrant melon from France, the Charentais Cantaloupe is a must-have summertime treat for fruit lovers craving something sweet. The small heirloom melon is perfect when enjoyed on its own, but it also makes a remarkable addition to fruit salads and other hot-weather recipes.
Discover more about the extraordinary Charentais Cantaloupe, including its history, its taste, how to grow it, and—more importantly—how to enjoy it in this handy melon guide!
History of the Charentais Cantaloupe
The Charentais Cantaloupe originated in the former Poitou-Charentes region of Western France in the 1920s. Often referred to as a “Charentais Melon,” this tiny cantaloupe is about the size of a softball, providing two delightful servings with an intense, unforgettable aroma unlikely to rival any other cantaloupe.
This cantaloupe is mainly associated with the Provençal French town of Cavaillon. In fact, Cavaillon hosts an annual festival, the Fête des Melons, every July to celebrate its beloved melon. One hundred Camargue horses run through the city center where crowds gather to honor this tasty little cantaloupe.
As such, the Charentais Cantaloupe is sometimes called the “Cavaillon Melon.” No matter what you call them, true Charentais Cantaloupes are almost exclusively grown and sold in France because their soft skin doesn’t ship well. Hybrid varieties, however, are available in North America, and they offer a similar sweetness and fragrance in a larger, sturdier size.
Characteristics of the Charentais Cantaloupe
Charentais Cantaloupes are smaller than the average melon, weighing just two to three pounds and measuring seven to ten centimeters in diameter. Unlike traditional cantaloupes, they have a compact, oval shape.
A true Charentais Cantaloupe has a thin, green-striped skin with a grayish-green base coloring. Inside, the flesh has a more pinkish hue than regular cantaloupes.
Hybrid varieties outside of France may feature lightly netted, yellowish skin and a dense, pale orange fruit flesh. No matter where it’s grown, a ripe Charentais will have a succulent and tender but firm consistency with oblong, ivory seeds.
All About the Charentais Cantaloupe
Although we refer to these fruits as melons in the United States, Charentais Cantaloupes—and all cantaloupes, in fact—are muskmelons. Muskmelons include all varieties of cantaloupe as well as honeydew, casaba, and various Persian fruits.
These fruits are called muskmelons because of their delectable fragrance. And rest assured, once you smell a Charentais Cantaloupe, you’ll never forget it!
What Do They Taste Like?
The Charentais Cantaloupe tastes richer than what you might expect from a traditional cantaloupe. It boasts a sweet, musky note that’s mildly acidic. Its profound perfume also enhances every bite. As such, this incredible muskmelon possesses an unsurpassed flavor that’s in a different league from your average grocery store cantaloupe.
With its unexpectedly delightful flavor and musky aroma, the Charentais is perfect for pairing with other ingredients to create some truly scrumptious flavor combinations.
How to Use Them
Charentais Cantaloupes make a great addition to summertime recipes. Since they pair amazingly well with both sweet and savory foods, you can use them in all sorts of dishes ranging from appetizers to desserts.
On a hot summer day, try slicing your Charentais Melon in half and freezing it. You can scoop the icy, creamy treat straight out of the rind with a spoon! The muskmelon also elevates cured meats and cheeses—especially flavors like prosciutto, goat cheese, and feta that can stand up to its impactful taste. If you enjoy the combination of fruit and wine, try pairing Charentais Cantaloupe with a dessert wine like sherry, Riesling, or port.
If you love the combination of Charentais Cantaloupe and prosciutto, try making this prosciutto melon salad with basil and balsamic vinegar. It makes a wonderful starter or light lunch on a hot day!
Another simple yet decadent recipe pairs the beloved melon with spiced quinoa, pistachio, and Greek yogurt. With its crushed cardamon pods, mint leaves, and drizzle of honey, this is one dessert your dinner guests will never forget.
If you’re short on time but need to create an impressive dessert using the Charentais Cantaloupe, prepare a yummy sorbet!
Save Some For Later
While you’re likely to polish off an entire Charentais Cantaloupe in one setting, you may need to store leftovers at some point. The best way to save half melons is to wrap them in clingwrap and keep them in the fridge.
If you’ve already cut your cantaloupe, toss the slices or cubes in a bit of lemon juice before storing them in an airtight container and placing in the refrigerator’s crisper. Aim to use one teaspoon of lemon juice per cup of melon.
Health Benefits of the Charentais Cantaloupe
Like most melons, Charentais Cantaloupes are packed with nutrition! They’re a great source of Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, and potassium.
One of the best benefits of Charentais Cantaloupe is that it helps keep you hydrated. Thanks to its balanced sodium and water content, this muskmelon is brimming with electrolytes. It also has a low glycemic index, meaning that it won’t spike your blood sugar.
The Charentais Melon is also a great source of phytonutrients. Phytonutrients enhance the body’s immune system, repair cellular damage, and have both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Plus, since all varieties of ripe cantaloupe are soft and easy to eat, kids love them!
Where to Buy the Charentais Cantaloupe
Since Charentais Cantaloupes are considered gourmet specialty items, they can be difficult to find. Your best bet is to scour higher-end grocery stores and specialty shops more likely to carry hard-to-find fruits.
Depending on the season, you may also find them in stock online through organic produce delivery companies like Melissa’s.
Growing Your Own Charentais Cantaloupe
Since this storied melon is so hard to find in many areas across the United States, why not cultivate your own?
Where to Purchase Seeds
Organic and heirloom Charentais seeds are readily available online through retailers like Baker Creek, Burpee, and True Leaf Market. If you’re lucky, you may also find them at local nurseries or farmers markets.
To grow the perfect melon, sow your seeds outdoors according to the instructions on the packet. Creating 12-inch diameter dirt hills spaced at least six feet apart is generally recommended for sowing cantaloupe. If you prefer to start your seeds indoors, do so two to three weeks before the last frost.
Charentais seeds germinate in about four to ten days.
You can help seedlings along by spreading a two-inch mulch layer over the garden bed but wait until the seedlings are at least six inches tall. This step ensures the soil retains enough moisture to nourish the growing plants and help reduce weed growth.
Water your Charentais Cantaloupe plants weekly. The top two to four feet of soil should stay moist throughout the growing season.
When to Harvest Charentais Cantaloupes
Charentais Cantaloupes must be cut as soon as they’re ready to be harvested.
An easy way to spot that a melon is ready for harvesting is to check the tendril growing out of the vine close to where it connects to the fruit. The tendril will turn brown when the melon is ready, whereas previously it would have been green. You can view what the tendril looks like in this video.
The melon’s skin will also turn slightly yellow when it’s ripe and ready for harvest. At this point, take a knife and cut the melon away from the vine. Unlike other muskmelon varieties, Charentais Cantaloupes won’t slip off the vine naturally when they’re ready. You’ll need to identify when they’re ripe and cut them yourself.
Charentais Melons may also crack on the bottom when they’re ready to pick. If you do notice a crack, don’t worry—the fruit is still perfectly fine to eat. If the fruit cracks before it’s ripe, however, you’ve probably overwatered it.
Ripe melons will also give off a heavily perfumed smell that makes it quite obvious they’re ready to enjoy!
Common Charentais Cantaloupe Pests and Diseases
When growing the Charentais variety, be on the lookout for certain pests and diseases that can affect your harvest.
Powdery mildew is a common issue, and it most often occurs in mid-to-late summer. You’ll notice powdery spots on the plant that are white and round and can quickly cover entire leaves. To avoid powdery mildew, give your melons adequate air circulation and sunlight.
Aside from fungal diseases, cantaloupes, in general, are prone to fruit rot, charcoal rot, and blight. Symptoms of these issues vary, but you can easily tell something is wrong by how the fruit and plant look. It’s always best to remove diseased plants from your garden as soon as possible so these issues don’t spread.
Final Thoughts on the Charentais Cantaloupe
Cantaloupe lovers rejoice! The Charentais variety offers a delightfully sweet, blissful taste and aroma in one compact, melon-shaped package. If you’re lucky to find this hidden gem of the fruit world, consider yourself lucky.
Can’t find any Charentais Cantaloupes near you? Start shopping for seeds and cultivate your own! Trust us, they’re well worth the effort!
The Charentais is just one of about 40 kinds of melons! Excited for more cantaloupe content? Then check out my cantaloupe page for growing tips, info guides, recipes, and more!