It's melon season, you guys, and to prove it, my friend Hannah texted me this morning with a query: "Do you know how to tell if a cantaloupe is ripe?" I had no idea, so I promised her—in my purview as a professional breakfast journalist—I'd find out. It's admittedly difficult to determine when a cantaloupe is ripe, perhaps partly because they're a bit unfamiliar to us in their natural form: We so often eat them already chopped up, as parts of fruit salad and hotel breakfast buffets. But if you know the clues to look for, it's a breeze to figure out. How to know if a cantaloupe is ripe comes down to a few sensorial clues.
First off, take a good look for color. If the skin of the rind under the "netting," or rough part of the rind, is cream, tending towards yellow or gold, you're good to go. If it's green (or, more unfortunately, gray), that's a no-go. The netting, by the way, should be well-defined. If it doesn't stand out, that's no good either. If there are any sticky patches or bruises, that means it's probably overripe and should be avoided.
Then, take a look at either end of the cantaloupe. If there's still a stem attached, put it back. This means the melon was picked too soon, and it won't taste good. Similarly, if there are tears where the stem should be, or if the stem end protrudes, this means it was a struggle to pick, which also indicates that it was harvested prematurely. The stem end, then, should be slightly indented. Think pluck, not pull.
Next, note the weight of the cantaloupe. Does it seem heavy for its size? Awesome. That means it'll be good and juicy. Also give it a gentle rap with your knuckles. Listen for a deep, solid sound. You know, like Sam Elliott's voice. If it sounds hollow, that's not a good sign.
The end opposite of the stem end is the blossom end of a cantaloupe. Give it a sniff. If it smells slightly floral and sweet (but not overly so), you've got a winner. Avoid it if it smells like alcohol (which means it's gotten too ripe and started to ferment) or if it doesn't smell like anything at all.
Got it? Now, go forth and eat. Hannah, I hope your cantaloupe is perfect.