Retailers and restaurateurs who want to offer customers a unique melon experience look to a number of California Westside melon grower-shippers to fill that niche with a wide selection of specialty melons.

About 90% of the melons that Huron, Calif.-based Couture Farms offers fall into the mixed melon category, said partner Steve Couture.

Buyers can pick up casaba, crenshaw, galia, juan canary, orange-flesh, santa claus (also called piel de sapo) and the hami, the latest addition to the company’s mixed melon line, as well as some Persian melons.

“We always plant just a few rows of Persian melons,” Couture said.

Persian melons, which Couture refers to as an “old standby,” eat well and are an unusual menu addition, he said.

They’re a netted, slate-gray melon with orange flesh and very challenging to harvest correctly, he said. In the latest varieties, an orange color in the skin indicates when they’re ripe.

Couture Farms plans to kick off its specialty melon program June 23 and wind down by the second week of August.

The hami melon is probably the latest variety that some grower-shippers have added to their product lines.

Del Mar Farms, Patterson, Calif., added the hami three years ago, said Brian Wright, sales manager.

“It’s not a huge part of our deal, but we’ve got a good calling for it,” he said, especially in big cities like Los Angeles, New York and Vancouver.

It has a yellow-orange flesh, he said.

“We say it looks like a rugby ball.”

The hami melon has cracks in its outer skin, and it’s believed that the more cracks it has, the higher the brix level, Wright said.

It can be sold at a premium price, depending on supplies, he said.

“A lot more retailers are starting to pick it up,” Wright said.

Hami melons are especially popular among members of the Asian community, said Steve Smith, co-owner of Turlock Fruit Co. Inc., Turlock, Calif.

There are several types of hami melons, he said. The one Turlock Fruit Co. offers originated in Uzbekistan.

The company identifies the melons with a decal printed in Mandarin Chinese.

In all, the firm offers up to 10 varieties of specialty melons from July 10 to Sept. 15, he said.

“Everything looks good,” he said the first week of June.

“We’ve had an ideal spring for melons this year — warm, dry days, very little rain, temperatures in the low 90s cooling off to the 60s at night — just perfect.”

Unlike most grower-shippers who sell specialty melons almost exclusively to retailers, V.H. Azhderian & Co. Inc., Los Banos, Calif., grows only organic melons and sells them primarily to foodservice customers in the San Francisco Bay area and in some other large, urban areas, said Berj Moosekian, general manager.

The company will offer a limited but consistent supply of orange-flesh and sharlyn melons this summer, he said.

Most foodservice operators prefer cantaloupes, honeydews and watermelons rather than specialty melons because of their vibrant colors and because they’re less expensive, Couture said.

Mixed melons typically are an impulse buy in the produce department, he said.

“They’re an extra purchase that a consumer would buy as a special treat.”

Specialty melons have been “a nice deal” for Couture Farms, he said.

“It’s not too crowded,” Couture said.

Also, the company can ask for a higher price for mixed melons than traditional melons, and it’s easier to catch buyers’ attention for a six-week specialty melon deal than with a similar cantaloupe or honeydew deal.

“They’re a seasonal item in the produce department,” he said, and they eat well and make a good promotional product.