Kathy Burns-Millyard/Demand Media

There's a world of difference between an unripe and a ripe cantaloupe. An unripe one lacks flavor and moisture, it has an anemically pale orange color, and it's unpleasantly hard to the bite. But the fruit of a ripe one is so sweet, tender, drippingly juicy and vibrantly orange. If you intend to eat a cantaloupe the day you buy it, or even within a few days, select one that's already ripe at the time of purchase. These melons will continue to ripen after harvesting, though, so if you get one that's not quite ready to be eaten, have a little patience and it'll get there.

How to Know if a Cantaloupe Is Ripe

A simple three-point inspection lets you know whether or not you're dealing with a ripe cantaloupe:

  1. Sniff it. A perfectly ripe cantaloupe emanates a fragrant, sweet, vaguely musky scent that's easily detectable through its thick rind. If you don't smell anything, or the aroma is really faint, the fruit isn't ready yet; if it has an unpleasant odor, it's already headed downhill toward rotten.
  2. Shake it. All those seeds you have to scoop out are loose in a ripe cantaloupe. Give the melon a few shakes. If you can feel seeds flopping around inside, that's an indication that the fruit is mature. If there's no sign of movement in there, the cantaloupe needs more time.
  3. Squeeze it. Press down on the stem area at the top of the cantaloupe with your thumbs. It should be firm, not hard as a rock, giving a little with pressure. Too hard and it's not yet ripe; too soft and it's past its prime. If your thumbs go right through into a pile of mush, run!

Other Ripe Cantaloupe Tips

In addition to evaluating ripeness, there are some key signs of good quality cantaloupe to check for. Choose melons that:

  • Don't have discoloration, mold, bruises or other signs of damage or decay.
  • Have a prominent tan netting pattern over a light green to yellowish rind.
  • Have a symmetrical shape.
  • Feel heavy for their size.
  • Are smooth and slightly sunken at the stem site.

Just to clarify something about discoloration: Many cantaloupes have a large, circular whitish patch on the rind. That's where the melon sat on the ground while growing, and it's nothing to worry about.

How to Store Cantaloupe

If a cantaloupe is not yet ripe, leave it out at room temperature and it should ripen within a few days. You can also close it up in a paper bag to speed things up a bit. Just don't put it in the refrigerator yet, as this slows down the maturing process.Whole cantaloupes can be left out at room temperature for five to seven days, with some variation depending on how ripe it is at the time of purchase. Once they're ripe, it's better to keep cantaloupes in the fridge, which helps them last a little longer.

Once you cut a cantaloupe, it needs to be refrigerated. If you're cutting it into wedges, try to leave the seeds and gooey stuff on, as they help prevent the fruit from drying out. Store cut pieces in an airtight container or well wrapped in plastic wrap for up to three or four days.

Remember to wash the exterior of a cantaloupe before you cut it. Although you don't eat the rind, the knife can introduce external bacteria to the fruit as it travels to the center through the rind.