At the end of every summer, I meet up with my dear friend Angel for a watermelon-eating contest. In case you’ve never seen me, I am a big ol’ country boy (I was once an All-State football player) and I’ve been eating whole melons my entire life. Angel, on the other hand, is tall, slim, and very athletic; it seems like she has no business being in any kind of food-eating contest. But don’t let her looks fool you: she can devour a 15-pound melon in a few minutes flat.
We’ve each won two of the last four throw-downs and this year I feel like I need an edge. The contest will be held at my house, so we’ll play by my rules. Playing by my rules means we’ll be eating watermelon served with cheese.
The first round will be a traditional mix of watermelon and feta. I am partial to barrel-aged sheep’s milk feta, a traditional Greek cheese that’s aged in salty brine in wooden barrels for two to four months: what true feta is supposed to taste like. The salt in the cheese will contrast the sweetness of our first melon: a Black Diamond, my favorite red seedless type. I’ll cut it into long wedges, six per melon, and layer it with medium-thin slices of the feta.
Next I’m planning to work with a Crimson Sweet watermelon, a sweet, seeded variety. I’m hoping the seeds will slow Angel up; I just eat ‘em. I’ll cut the melon into chunks then spread each cube generously with the richest goat cheese I can find, such as Vermont Creamery’s Fresh Goat Cheese. I’ll make sure the melon is ice-cold and crispy, which is important to highlight the contrasting textural differences between cheese and melon. I might even grind a touch of fresh cracked black pepper on top to add a bit of zing.
For the third watermelon, a Georgia Rattlesnake (a shout-out to Angel’s home state), I’m going to shave some young Manchego on top of a bowl of tiny cubes of melon. I really like La Oveja Negra Organic Manchego, which has a bit of a barnyard quality that’ll give depth to the subtle sweetness of the melon. Incidentally, the Georgia Rattlesnake is a giant varietal of melon. I’ve seen some in the 40-pound range, but for our contest I got a tiny 10-pounder.
If Angel’s still in the game after these three melons – and I fear she will be – I’ve got a wild card: a beautiful Hopi Yellow melon in honor of my Native American heritage. This is a super-sweet, yellow-fleshed melon that tastes like candy. I’ll halve the melon then sprinkle blue cheese crumbles on each half and sink a big spoon into the flesh. I like the peppery nature of a good blue cheese; look for a creamy, rind-less, young blue, such as Asher Blue from Sweet Grass Dairy as the perfect pairing for this combination.
It goes without saying that I intend on winning our throw-down this year, but if Angel tops me, it’s okay – after all, she’s a professional. Either way, I know I’ll be full and happy.