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Cucumis melo var cantalupensis



Féria du Melon, Melon Festival, Cavaillon, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur

July 2024

Traditionally held over the first weekend in July, the Féria du Melon presents an extraordinary celebration of the fruit (technically, a berry) whose cultivation is now so firmly associated with this part of south-eastern France that the commune of Cavaillon in its midst, in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region at the foot of the Luberon mountains, is regarded by some as the 'Melon Capital of the World'(1).

Each year the town receives thousands of visitors - both local and from further afield - who come to view, experience or otherwise take part in all manner of events from melon tastings, displays and demonstrations showing innumerable ways to use this colourful fruit, to banquets, tours, sculpture, exhibitions and cooking competitions. As well as a parade of floats and processions of people and horse-drawn Provencale carts, with musical accompaniment, the festival offers folk dancing and spectacles such as the running of Camargue horses (the roussataïo) and a procession of bulls (the abrivado) through the str
eets of the town.

Melons, members of the gourd family Cucurbitaceae, were long thought to have originated in Africa and to have reached Euro
pe towards the end of the Roman Empire, being also introduced to Asia before their spread around the world. (2)  More recent studies however suggest that they could have originated in Asia, various countries and regions, including Central Asia, India, China, Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan now considered primary centres of diversity (3). Melon seeds dating back to between 1350 and 1120 (within the Bronze Age) have recently been found in Sardinia showing that their presence in Europe is very ancient.(4)


The term 'melon' is used to describe a number of distinct types of climbing or trailing plants that produce thick-skinned fruit with pulpy flesh and many seeds, whose taxonomy is very complex. Roughly categorized into groups according to characteristics of their flesh and the surface of their fruit (but with much hybridization making exact definition difficult) the variety grown and celebrated in Cavaillon belongs to the genus Cucumis, which includes most of the many culinary melons, and is a type of canteloupe.

Canteloupe  melons are distinguished by their warty or scaly skin (not however, with a 'netted' patterning) which is often deeply grooved, and by their orange or sometimes green, very fragrant flesh. 

Various reports suggest that canteloupes - said to take their name from the town of Cantalupo near Rome where they were, it is stated, being grown on land owned by the popes - were introduced to the region of Charentes from Italy, possibly as early as the 14thC.
(5) (6)  The first written records of melon cultivation in Cavaillon region are said to date back to 1495 (7). The melon now associated with Cavaillon however, is thought not to have been traditionally grown there, but possibly brought to the region by 'a young farmer from the Cavaillon region [who] went to do his military service in the Charentes around the 1920s, noticed a local variety and brought seeds back to his home town'.(8)   Adapting well, they developed their distinctive characteristics over time, to become the Charentais melons of today.

While melon production was historically spread over a wide geographical area around Cavaillon, the coming of the railway linking Paris, Lyon and Marseilles in the 19th C saw Cavaillon become the main market in the region. From the second half of the 20thC Cavaillon melons were to become the most cultivated in France (8).

Relatively small in size, generally weighing about 1 kilo, and distinguished by a pale golden outer skin, bright pinkish-orange inner flesh with a high sugar content - and therefore a very sweet flavour - and intense floral aroma, it was in 1988 that an association: the Confrérie du Melon (also referred to as the 'Brotherhood of Knights of the Order of the Melon') was formed in order to oversee the quality of the fruit and 'protect its reputation' (9)


Cavaillon still promotes and protects the unique qualities of its melons which must pass strict quality controls. The term 'Melon de Cavaillon' is now a brand name overseen by the Syndicat des Maîtres Melonniers de Cavaillon, formed in 2002, (10) which brings together some 40 producer members from an area covering some 600 ha that includes the department of Vaucluse and part of those of Bouches-du-Rhône, Alpes de Hautes-Provence and Var (7).


The very high levels of sunshine the area has traditionally received -  some 2,800 hours each year - and the favourable growing conditions of the 'terroir' promote the ripening and development of the melons' high sugar content and allow a very long production season that lasts from May to September.

The thin skin and soft flesh of charentais melons means however, that they are difficult to transport and most of the fruit is consumed locally. Hybrids that are larger and more robust have been developed (often the result of crossing with canteloupes from North America) and are now grown widely elsewhere, but true charentais melons are considered to be only those grown in the region of Cavaillon.

The festival offers the opportunity to try melon in many forms - including melon beignets (as a doughnut or fritter), with a hamburger as well as with cured ham, as a soup flavoured with basil, crystalized, in chocolate, ice cream, pastries, breads and marzipan or eaten with locally produced aperitifs, fortified and spiced wines (9).

In 2021 some 2,500 tons of Cavaillon melons were marketed (7)  but the extremes of temperature the region has experienced in recent years due to climate breakdown, have led to worries about the future cultivation of this distinguished fruit.



2. Vaughan, J.G., & C.A. Geissler, The New Oxford Book of Food Plants, Oxford University Press, 1997, p.126

3. Raghami, Mahmoud; López-Sesé, Ana Isabel; Hasandokht, Mohamad Reza; Zamani, Zabihollah; Moghadam, Mahmoud Reza Fattahi; Kashi, Abdolkarim (2014-01-01). "Genetic diversity among melon accessions from Iran and their relationships with melon germplasm of diverse origins using microsatellite markers". Plant Systematics and Evolution. 300 (1): 139–151.

4. Sabato, D., Masi, A., Pepe, C., Ucchesu, M., Peña-Chocarro, L., Usai, A., Giachi, G., Capretti, C., Bacchetta, G.,(16 May 2017). "Archaeobotanical analysis of a Bronze Age well from Sardinia: A wealth of knowledge". Plant Biosystems

5. Roberts, J., Cabbages and Kings: the origins of fruit and vegetables, HarperCollins, 2001, pp 78-79.



8. Pitrat, M., The Melon, quite a story! Jardins de France, January-February 2014.



See also:


Images courtesy of: 



Melon (de Cavaillon) in field with cut section 'Luberon Couer de Provence'.jpg
66573.jpgmelons in field (Luber Coeur de Provence site).jpg

Ripe Cavaillon melons ready for sale

                        Selecting a ripe melon

A ripe Charentais melon, it is said, should be a soft green that is becoming yellow on the outside and have 10 stripes of a deep blue-green colour.  In general - as ripe melons will be full of juice and sweetness - the heavier the fruit the better.  The stalk or peduncle should also be easy to remove and the melon itself smell richly aromatic around its base. (9)

Melons IMG_7360.jpg
Cavaillon_1906_Maché_aux_melons.jpg Wikipedia.jpg

The melon market in Cavaillon in 1906

                    A literary connection ...

The novelist Alexandre Dumas (1829 - 1869) was a particular fan of Cavaillon melons.  It is reported that when he was asked by the town in 1864 if he would contribute some of his works to the local library, he agreed only on the condition that he would be granted a supply of 12 melons each year for as long as he lived (5)


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