The first time Ivory Gaya melons showed up at local markets, it was alongside another semi-new arrival, the Kyoho grape, which by the way comes into season this week. But when asked what the melon was named, the vendor would shrug and say only, "Japanese melon." That offhand label, however incorrect, was truth in advertising. The Gaya is indeed from Japan, but has been grown both here and in Mexico as a commercial crop for several years. A small mountain of them can be found at your local Asian grocer, but if California-grown is what you're after, then the farmers markets of L.A. are your best source.
This ostrich egg-shaped melon has a striking appearance next to the sunsets and soft mints of the usual summer melons at the markets right now. The thin, smooth skin is a pale white dotted with a random mosaic of motherboard-green splashes of color, often in almost rectangular shapes. The effect is one that conjures up images of large, technology-spiked alien eggs, accidental escapees from Area 51 or possibly parts of West Hollywood. The flesh is no less striking, a snowy white that is pleasantly sweet and only lightly perfumed. It can be crisp like an apple or supple and yielding, like some of the most delicate French charentais.
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Choosing a good melon is a matter of much speculation. There are different methods for different melons, depending on whether or not the stem-end is exposed and smellable, the skin has a distinctive color change, or the density of the crusty "net" is heavy or light. Ivory Gaya melons offer none of these as possible methods, having completely smooth skin, no real visible color change indicating how sweet they are, and no distinct aroma. Your best bet is to sample and then choose a melon that is firm and unblemished, with no soft spots or discoloration.
The Gaya used to be a hard find at local markets and were once solely the product of one enterprising farmer in Temecula. Now a few other vendors are growing them, including Ha's Apple Farm in Tehachapi. Owner David Ha says that he's had the Gaya for four years and that it has been doing well. The only trick, as with all crops, is the weather. "It was selling good and some people were very interested, but [the Gaya] needs a nice even temperature," says Ha. "If it gets too hot, it burns and it become unharvestable. Some grow them inside, but ours are all field grown." Gaya melons can be found at Ha's booths through August at the Pasadena, Hollywood, Long Beach, Saturday Santa Monica markets.