A fresh, spicy surprise for summer: Watermelon Mango Salad with Blue Cheese

by Terry B on August 4, 2010

Watermelon, mango, blue cheese and cayenne pepper combine sweet, savory and spicy flavors in a fresh, colorful summer salad. Recipe below.

watermelon-blue-cheese-salad

When we started planning last weekend’s road trip to Eastern Iowa, one of our first thoughts was that we might make it to Newton, Iowa, home of the Maytag Dairy Farms and Maytag Blue Cheese.

In 1941, heirs to the Maytag appliance makers began making small batches of blue cheese from the milk of their prize-winning Holstein cows. They aged their handmade wheels of cheese in caves on the farm. In other words, they maytag-blue-cheese-smallwere making artisanal cheese long before the term artisan was applied to foods. They still produce their cheese this way, making each wheel by hand and aging it twice as long as most blue cheeses.

We first read about this storied cheese in the Chicago Tribune a few years ago and first put it to use in the kitchen to make an Endive Salad with Blue Cheese and Walnuts, now a favorite dish for impressing company. And we’ve thought about making a pilgrimage to Newton, Iowa, pretty much ever since then.

Alas, as almost always happens, we had crammed far too much into our 36-hour trip to tack on another 160-mile round trip further west. A couple of museums, a minor league ball game (great fun, even if the Cedar Rapids Kernels lost to the visiting Quad Cities River Bandits), hiking, birdwatching and eating some truly memorable meals. The Maytag Dairy Farm will have to wait for another trip—and there will be one.

iowa-farm_tresa-robinson

One of the great, simple pleasures of the weekend was just driving through the rolling farmland. Various road trips over the years have taken us through lots of farmland, much of it rather hardscrabble and down at the heels. Iowa farms, by contrast, seem orderly and prosperous. You get a sense of things growing, a feeling of history and abundance, almost like driving through a Grant Wood painting.

Even though we didn’t make it to the home of Maytag Blue Cheese, the cheese made it into this week’s recipe. I’d seen watermelon feta salad recipes popping up here and there lately, and while that sounded fairly refreshing (especially with the addition of mint), I wanted bigger flavors. Our Iowa road trip put blue cheese on the map and pointed me in a whole new direction.

Watermelon Mango Salad with Blue Cheese
Serves 4

4 cups cubed seedless watermelon, chilled
2 cups cubed mango, chilled (about 1 large mango)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (see Kitchen Notes)
1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves, packed (chopped or torn if large)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
generous 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (see Kitchen Notes)

This salad is at its best and most crisp tasting if it’s nice and cold. Refrigerate the watermelon and mango beforehand or allow time for the cubed fruit to chill thoroughly in the refrigerator before assembling the salad. Combine the watermelon and mango in a large bowl, stirring gently with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to avoid mashing the fruit. Sprinkle the cayenne pepper over the fruit and stir gently to coat. Add parsley and lime juice and stir until just combined.

When you’re ready to serve the salad, sprinkle about half of the blue cheese over it and gently fold in. Transfer salad to a serving bowl with a slotted spoon (the salad will produce a fair amount of liquid—the slotted spoon will minimize the amount in the finished salad). Sprinkle the remaining blue cheese over the salad and serve.

Kitchen Notes

Adjust the heat. I used a full 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper when I made this. You could tell. Even by our standards, the salad had quite a kick. I might use a tiny bit less next time I make it, so the heat is more of an accent and the freshness of the fruit flavors is the star. Adjust the heat according to your own taste buds—or those of your guests. You can always add more cayenne pepper, but you can’t take it out.

For the blue cheese, go for the good stuff. Maytag, which can be found at Whole Foods (among other places) is wonderful for this. But any really good blue cheese will work. Just make sure it’s fairly firm, not creamy. And don’t buy the pre-crumbled stuff—the flavor won’t be nearly as good. You’ll notice you don’t need a lot for this recipe. The blue cheese serves as a nice, sharp accent, balancing the sweetness of the fruit without overpowering it.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

kirsten August 4, 2010 at 12:53 pm

This looks amazing! I haven’t tried the watermelon feta combo but I think this looks better. Your photos are gorgeous, making me miss the midwest (I used to live in southern Minnesota and we had maytag blue at our co-op all the time!)

City Share August 4, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Thanks for the back story on Maytag blue. I always love to learn more about where my food comes from. I will now keep an eye out for it at my Whole Foods.

altadenahiker August 4, 2010 at 4:11 pm

I think Iowa and Southern Indiana are two of America’s best-kept secrets. Your glorious photo does it justice.

(I’m a blue cheese nut. I like Maytag, but Point Reyes is my current favorite.)

Terry B August 4, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Thanks, Kirsten! I have to say, since making my own version here, I think the feta/mint version might fall a little flat for me. Regarding the Maytag blue, look around LA—I’m sure you can find it somewhere. Any California readers got any ideas?

City Share—We’re all about the back story here at Blue Kitchen.

Altadenahiker—First, I can’t take credit for the farm photo. That was shot by Tresa Robinson, a former Iowan now working for a radio station in Washington state. And regarding great blue cheese, another wonderful one we discovered is Roaring 40s Blue Cheese from an island just south of Melbourne, Australia. It’s named for ferocious westerly winds that blow along the 40°S Latitude and have caused countless shipwrecks (how’s that for back story?). I used it for a steaks with blue cheese recipe.

Lauren August 4, 2010 at 6:07 pm

I love this recipe! Its fantastic I will have to try

Shauna August 5, 2010 at 3:08 am

T- you have the absolute best topics on any food blog out there. Every time I check in I go YUM!! So informative and such gorgeous pictures, too!! I love trying your recipes! In summah time, watermelon everything is all right by me! THANKS!!!

Dani H August 5, 2010 at 3:20 am

This sounds delightful! Definitely going to try it SOON! As an aside, my daughter was born in Des Moines and my best friend from high school married a farmer. One of my brothers still lives there and every couple of years will ship me corn and tomatoes from his garden.

My family still enjoys the Mexican Fruit Salad that you blogged about last year: http://www.blue-kitchen.com/2009/06/03/lively-refreshing-mexican-fruit-salad-brings-la-street-food-to-the-dinner-table/

Terry B August 5, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Thanks, Lauren!

Well, shucks, Shauna, if I could still blush, I’d be doing so now. Thanks, my friend.

Dani—As much as we’re always impressed by the non-Midwestness of both coasts when we travel, there really is something so solid and honest and wonderful about the Midwest, isn’t there? And I’m glad your family like the Mexican Fruit Salad—it’s become one of the more popular dishes in my archives, randomly enough.

Laura [What I Like] August 5, 2010 at 4:11 pm

I have been loving cayenne pepper with fruit lately…at an hors d’oeuvres party I skewered pineapple and spritzed with lime juice, then tossed it with some cayenne and thai basil….basically stolen from one of your recipes I think. I would never have thought of blue cheese in a fruit salad though, what a fabulous idea! Can’t wait to try it.

Helen August 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm

This looks wonderful. Can’t wait to try it. Loved the backstory. I grew up in a small town in northern Il. The surrounding area was very much like you described in your story. Now I live in a metropolitan area . When I long for that openess and rolling hills of the rural life I can take a short drive .

Angela@spinachtiger August 6, 2010 at 7:20 pm

I wish I could subscribe by email. That’s my best reminder. I love your site. Talk about nice photos! I never knew that Maytag blue cheese was related to Maytag washers. Ha. Who knew.

Terry B August 6, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Laura, the pineapple sounds delicious! At most, it’s a loose adaptation of something I did here—and the best cooks do it, from home cooks to rock star chefs.

Thanks, Helen! You know, as much as we love Chicago, one thing that bugs us is how you have to drive forever to escape the city and its ring of far-flung ’burbs.

Angela—You can subscribe by email! Just look at the top of my right-hand sidebar and you’ll find a link. And yeah, we love the Maytag back story too.

Helen August 6, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Terry, sorry I forgot you are in Chicago. I grew up in McHenry. Back then it was a small town where everyone knew everyone. Lots of farm land, dairy cows and corn. Now I am in Columbus, Ohio so I don’t really have to go far to find the rural life. The Amish have communities in various towns from Cols north towards Cleveland. Love your site. Found the Mexican Fruit Salad and I want to try it also.

Peggy August 7, 2010 at 2:16 pm

I keep trying to love blue cheese. I want so badly to love blue cheese, but for some reason every time I incorporate it in a dish, that seemingly it should pair well with, it ends up being too strong of a flavor. But I think this salad is going to make me give it another go!

Terry B August 7, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Helen—We’ve been through Ohio on various road trips and have visited Cleveland. I can see that there is some pretty countryside to drive around in. And do try the Mexican fruit salad—it makes for a great appetizer and also has its own back story.

Peggy—I’m a late convert to blue cheese myself, so I admire your willingness to keep trying. You might also consider my Endive Salad with Blue Cheese and Walnuts. It never fails to impress dinner guests.

altadenahiker August 7, 2010 at 3:55 pm

For your other west coast fans: I saw Maytag at Von’s.

Cynthia Fox-Giddens August 8, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Yummy and two of my summertime favorites ->watermelon and mango. In this heat, this is a must fix!

Helen August 9, 2010 at 5:45 am

Just wanted to report back to you how much we loved this fruit salad. It went well with the tilapia I made for dinner. Thanks for the kitchen notes about the heat with the cayenne pepper. I only used 1/4 tsp and it was more than enough for us. Will make this again.

Terry B August 9, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Thanks, Altadenahiker. And I think it’s both funny and cool that Maytag blue cheese sightings are being reported here.

Do try it, Cynthia. It’s a nice refreshing summer salad.

Thanks for reporting back, Helen! I always like to hear what people think when they use one of my recipes.

Penny August 9, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Wow. I’ve been on the soapbox (wrong metaphor?) for Maytag cheese for several years – since we took a sudden exit off I-80 at Newton, Iowa and visited the Maytag cheese headquarters (vs the appliance headquarters). Actually it was mostly just a food counter at the front of a very retro looking corporate building but we loaded up for the trip to Northen Michigan where we summer. I think you can tour the caves, but only with advance notice. If there are more significant tours, would love to know about them.

Terry B August 10, 2010 at 12:39 am

Penny—I wondered what the Maytag visit experience might be like and feared it was as you described it. If and when we get headed back that way, I may try to call ahead and see if I can get in for a bigger tour. And I love your soapbox metaphor!

June VK August 10, 2010 at 2:27 am

Terry — I grew up in eastern Iowa around Fairfield. . . Where all did you visit?

Terry B August 10, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Hi, June! We weren’t far from there—we were in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City mostly, but had an amazing lunch in Mount Vernon. I’ll probably talk about this lunch in a future post.

Susie August 17, 2010 at 7:10 am

Ooh, Terry, that sounds yummy. My friend Monica made me a spinach salad with watermelon recently and it was so refreshing.

Terry B August 17, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Wow, Susie, that sounds like a great mix too. I’m always a fan of interesting ways to do sweet and savory together.

rosenborg blue cheese April 5, 2011 at 10:53 pm

goes great with rosenborg blue cheese

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