May – November from California, January – May from Central America, January – July from Mexico
Cantaloupe named not for its area of origin, but for the region in Europe that grows them, the papal gardens of Cantaloupe Italy. However, the Cantaloupe that grow here in the U.S. are actually muskmelons. They originated in either the Sudan or Asia. The debate continues to this day. Several varieties come into the commercial market and most of them are named for their growing regions like the Saticoy and the Starfire both varieties grown on opposite sides of the country. Other varieties are merely numbered. The cream of the crop is grown in Firebaugh California. Known as Westside melons these cantaloupes are packed with sugar and juice.
When selecting cantaloupes in the store, look for melons with a gold undertone to them, heavy surface netting is also a good sign of sugar. Combine the two descriptions and you have the perfect cantaloupe. A few cracks around the stem area are a sign of high sugar as well.
California Cantaloupes come to us from mid-May through October. Then the “off-shore” melons arrive on the market from various growing regions below the equator to fill the demand during the winter. They are usually picked and shipped green and rarely have decent sugar content. Cantaloupes do not ripen after they are picked, they only ferment and eventually decay. So, what is selected on the stand is as ripe as it will get.