After last year's listeria scare that wrongly targeted cantaloupes from Rocky Ford, the now trademarked Rocky Ford Cantaloupe™ is making a comeback.
That's largely due to the efforts of the Rocky Ford Growers Association, which banded together to adopt new safety procedures, build a state-of-the-art packing shed, hire a full-time safety manager and adopt LeafTrack scan technology that checks each melon. The state also pitched in $175,000 for an image campaign, which included the Rocky Ford Cantaloupe™ Creations Cook-off on the 16th Street Mall on August 1, Colorado Day.
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The event featured a number of chefs cooking with cantaloupe, and offering free samples. "We really wanted to have some fun, especially after some of the situations that have happened with other cantaloupe," says Diane Mulligan, spokeswoman for the RFGA. "Not only do we want to get the safety message out there, but this is such a fantastic year for the sweetness of the cantaloupe. We really wanted the general public to have an idea of what we were doing and some of the cool things you can do with cantaloupe."
The chefs definitely had fun creating their dishes. Chef Sarah Callaway from Panzano whipped up a cantaloupe sorbet in a light, crispy honey-tuile cone with toasted sesame and micro basil to top it off. The cool summer treat surprised the judges. "It was delicious, cool, refreshing," Marty Coniglio of 9 News pronounced. "The basil gave it such a nice balance. It took it to a different level."
Chef Chris Meier of Willie G's concocted a cantaloupe caprese salad dish with mozzarella balls, baby tomatoes, spicy capicola ham and, of course, Rocky Ford Cantaloupe™ drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. He then paired it with a cantaloupe consomme and carbonated cantaloupe for a deliciously decadent trio.
Jensen Cummings of Row 14 created a dish as fresh as a sea breeze with compressed cantaloupe coupled with Kona Kompachi (Hawaiian yellowtail tuna) and topped with chocolate mint, sunflower seeds and a honey horseradish vinaigrette.
But the dish that truly wowed the judges was by chef Lee Reitz of Wystone's World Teas. After basting a prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin in butter and olive oil, he placed it on top of grilled goat cheese polenta, then completed the colorful dish with avocado, cantaloupe chutney, cantaloupe gastrique and a one-of-a-kind garnish: toasted cantaloupe seeds.
In addition to showcasing the flavor and versatility of Colorado's deliciously sweet melons, the Creations Cook-off also emphasized safety. Growers handed out ribbon-tied scrolls detailing the companies' health precautions. as well as simple steps everyone can take to prepare a cantaloupe. Here they are:
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1. RINSE -- Just before cutting into your Rocky Ford Cantaloupe™ rinse it under running water. Do not let it sit in water 2. SCRUB -- Scrub your Rocky Ford Cantaloupe™ with a clean produce brush 3. DRY -- Dry your Rocky Ford Cantaloupe™ with a clear cloth or paper towel 4. CUT -- With a clean knife