Petit Gris de Rennes Cantaloupe

The Petit Gris de Rennes is so good it gives me the chills. As wonderful as Charentais is, Petit goes a baby step further, making it la crème de la crème of French melons. You will blink your eyes with disbelief when you sample its sweetness, which is more like brown sugar than white. It will melt on your tongue, and your mouth will water for more.

The melon is a tableau vivant of Impressionistic mustard and olive, and it inspires devotion in France. The little gray melon, named for its appearance before ripening, was first noted in the garden of the Bishop of Rennes nearly four hundred years ago. It thrived in the mild climate and horse manure of the garrison town, but is now cultured in hothouses and polyester tunnels. It is both labor-intensive and costly to produce.

Despite the best efforts of a handful of farmers and chefs, Petit Gris is menaced by market forces. That doesn’t discourage the Rescan family of Cesson-Sévigné, who has grown Petit Gris for more than seventy-five years. Marie-Thérèse Rescan is the president of the Syndicate of Producers of Petit Gris de Rennes, and a champion of the melon. For this group of preservationists, quality control is critical, so they’ve made a science of what once came naturally. Melon plants are grafted onto squash rootstock to confer Fusarium wilt resistance and then espaliered to keep them off the ground.

Grown this way, Petit Gris de Rennes doesn’t see the light of day or touch the earth, but it’s hardly factory farming. Kid gloves guide the process every step of the way. Maybe it’s not as easy to grow as other melons, but you can cultivate it in your own garden. Protect it from cucumber beetles and coddle it with spun polyester. It’s worth the extra effort.

Genus and Species: Cucumis melo var. cantalupensis

Size: 4 ½” high by 4 ½” wide

Weight: 2 pounds

Sugar Content: 14 degrees Brix

Maturity: Midseason

Seed Sources: fedcoseeds.com, rareseeds.com, seedsavers.org