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The Convivial Table gets down and dirty

By Wendy Crispell, CSW, WSET

Hudson Valley Cayuga WhiteMore and more people are making gluten free choices. Some are gluten sensitive, others are seeking to make better choices in their daily diet and eat healthy foods. While this may prohibit the ability to explore the world of craft beers, there are many other choices available for local tippling! My first introduction to the gluten free dilemma was with a roommate who had Celiac disease. She had a limited diet, but an arsenal of cider and I learned to love it. While I still love my wine and cheese, I discovered some of her finds to be a stunning match to the leftover cheeses I brought home from tastings. I also learned from her some new things to think about when selecting wine.

If you are gluten intolerant or just trying to avoid gluten, cider is your best choice. However, if you have Celiac or must avoid any gluten there are a few things to consider. Cider is almost always gluten free, but, flavorings or malt (added rarely) may add trace amounts of gluten. The cider community seems to be embracing the fact that they are a popular choice for the gluten-free lifestyle and much information can be found on the product’s back labels and online.

Here in the Hudson Valley we are fortunate to have a bounty of ciders and applejack available. Specialty tours and events hosted by members of the Hudson Valley Cider Alliance are a fabulous way to learn more, and spend a day in the country too! Cider is also a marvelous accompaniment to many local cheeses. Skip the bread and add some nuts and dried fruits for a fall picnic.

For the most part, wine made from grapes is also gluten-free to 20 parts per million. Some people have expressed concerns over barrel-aged wines as the butts of barrels are often originally sealed with wheat paste. As wineries clean barrels before use, and used barrels are more common here in the Valley, this should not be a concern. If you’re still skeptical, stick with wines aged in stainless steel. Another possible concern is the use of wheat as a fining agent. Fining agents are added to a barrel or tank of wine to help clarify and stabilize the wine. They drift through the wine, pick up solid matter, and eventually sink to the bottom of the container.

Common fining agents include hydrolyzed wheat gluten isolate, pea protein isolate, casein (milk protein), gelatin, egg whites, fish glue, and natural bentonite clay. Once the fining agent settles at the bottom, the clarified wine is siphoned off the top, leaving behind the residue, which is discarded. Although no trace of these products is found in the bottled wine, some consumers may still be wary of the use of wheat gluten isolate if they are ultra-sensitive to gluten. Asking the winemaker is your surest bet if you have concerns.

Fortunately artisanal cheese is not only naturally gluten free, but chockfull of health benefits! According to cheese expert Max McCalman cheese is an excellent source of the amino acid which suppresses our appetites and helps to reduce body fat. Other amino acids, vitamins and minerals that are derived from cheese help to lower our cholesterol levels and to metabolize the fats and proteins that we do consume. Many artisan cheeses also contain beneficial vitamins and minerals, including calcium, zinc, phosphorus, and vitamins A, D, B2, B12 and K!

You may not be able to enjoy a crusty bread with your wine or cider pairing but there are endless possibilities to amp up your pairing. Considering an 8 oz. serving of hard cider contains as many antioxidants as a glass of red wine, and more than white wine or green tea, you’ve got yourself a guilt-free pairing. Try adding a mix of roasted nuts, cured meats, jam, honey and crackers made from rice to your cheese plate. Your choices are endless and exciting!

Wendy Crispell, WSET Advanced Certificate, CSW is a wine and cheese specialist based in both the Hudson Valley and NYC. Join her for one of her weekly wine and cheese classes aboard the motor yacht Manhattan or plan your own private event in your office, home or event space.

Hudson Valley Wine magazine Summer 2014 issue

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