The 2011 Gluten-Free Awards!

Erin Swing names the best gluten-free product award winners.

Best Beer: Bard's Beer Co.

My great uncles were beer barons here in Cincinnati and worked for a local brewery called Hudepohl. I remember when my great uncle, Drew, reintroduced an acclaimed Cincinnati classic brew called Christian Moerlein. Beer was a part of my family’s heritage and legacy. Once I was diagnosed with Celiac, realizing that I couldn’t drink beer almost gave me an identity crisis — thank goodness for Bard’s. A great, simple brew made from sorghum with nice slightly bitter, skunky notes, and a malty character. To top it off, they have fun and somewhat odd conversational starters on the underside of the caps. This one said, “Would hamsters prefer little rowing machines?” Honorable mentions go out to Redbridge Beer (Budweiser) and Green’s Endeavor

Best Sandwich Bread: Udi’s

Bread looms as the Holy Grail in the gluten-free world. The perpetual quest to find the best GF bread proves to be a challenge. Fortunately, over the past couple of years, great contenders have shown up out of nowhere – like Udi’s. Udi’s is a small company based in Colorado and only has a few products on the market which they do really well because they focus on quality. I love both their white and whole grain breads. Perfect for sandwiches, grilled cheese, egg in the basket/one-eyed sailors, stuffing/dressing, and even bread pudding. A minor caveat though, the bread could be a little bit bigger.

Best Bread Mix: Chebe

"Slightly unusual. Unusually good” fits well as Chebe’s motto. This multipurpose bread mix can be used to make small bread rolls, cheesy bread rolls, pitas, naan, bread sticks, pigs-in-the-blanket, and even pizza. Chebe has an addictive texture: slightly crisp crust with a light, fluffy, chewy interior. (Since Chebe contains no yeast, there is no need to let it rise.)Whenever I have friends over for dinner, they always disclose that they look forward to my Chebe bread rolls – especially when I make it with fresh rosemary and buttermilk. The process of mixing this bread dough proves to be critical for best results. For more detailed instructions on using beautiful pitas made from Chebe click here

Best Pasta: Le Veneziane

Hands-down, this brand is my favorite pasta. Classic Italian pasta, they offer a wide variety of different shapes from tagliatelle fettucce to eliche. Le Venezian pasta bares a beautiful golden yellow color. This corn pasta has a delicate flavor to allow the flavor of your sauces to come shining through. Cooking it is easy with a forgiving window for the al dente phase – always a perfect texture, never mushy, or gummy. My Greek husband, who has no problems with gluten, loves this pasta and asks for it by name. Because I cannot find it at any of my local stores (no Italian grocers here in Cincinnati), I order it regularly from their distributor, Quattrobimbi. Quattrobimbi usually has a 10% promotion once you order from them. I am a repeat customer. For life. 

Best Cookie/Cake/Pancake/Muffin Mix: Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix

The GF store shelves have grown in the number of GF baking mixes. This is a great thing. Even big good companies are present here like General Mills' Betty Crocker mixes, Bisquick, King Arthur’s, and others. However, for me it goes make to adding more flavor and nutritional content. That is why Pamela’s has been my go-to mix when I am in a pinch and want to make something from an existing recipe, like Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookies or any recipe from James Beard American Cookery without having to do a full-blown GF recipe conversion. With Pamela’s mix, it is an easy one-to-one conversion. This mix contains almond meal, brown rice, and dried buttermilk — all of which are guaranteed to add deliciousness to any recipe. 

Best Crackers: Blue Diamond Nut Thins

There are some great GF crackers out there with the number increasing on a regular basis. Nut Thins seem to rise above the pack with their crunchy, nutty texture. Mostly made of brown rice and nuts, these crackers have a flavor that works for snacking on their own and equally as well for serving at a cocktail party and pairing different varieties with fancy cheeses. Again, this is one of those GF products that I have gotten my friends and family addicted to. Even my mother-in-law always has some on hand for entertaining and snacking. My personal favorite is the pecan variety – sweet and nutty. However, I have to give an honorable mention here to Mary’s Gone Crackers, which have incredible texture and flavor with the whole grains and seeds in them. (My brother-in-law refers to them approvingly as “bird seed crackers.”)

Best Cereal: Nature’s Path Crunchy Maple Sunrise

Growing up, my summer camp counselors and my mother would refer to me as “The Cereal Kid.” I was thin as a rail and could easily eat three to four bowls of cereal in one sitting. As an adult with Celiac, that all changed. Most cereals out there contain gluten, and even if they appear to be GF, there are some spoilers such as barley malt flavoring and contaminated oats. Recently, there has been an explosion of high-quality GF cereals out on the store shelves. Even General Mills has five varieties of Chex with a large gluten-free banner and even a commercial highlighting this – gets me choked up whenever I see it. Kudos to General Mills. Crunchy Maple Sunrise is the winner due to the variety of whole grains and seeds included in there such as quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, flaxseed, etc. In addition, the touch of maple drives this cereal to the top of my favorites. The only way this cereal could be better would be the addition of real bacon pieces. 

Best Sweet Treat: Moondance Heavenly Desserts Cheesecake

This tiny treat packs a punch of flavor and decadence. After feeling so disheartened and discouraged by not finding clear winners in traditional bakery categories, I wanted to see how fellow Cincinnatian, Shelley Ritchie, faired compared to the big dogs. She crushed them. The crust is made primarily with nuts and brown rice flour and resembles something like a caramelized cookie. The cheesecake filling is simple, tangy, light, and fluffy. Moondance is actively increasing their national distribution, especially amongst Whole Food Stores. There are varieties to tempt anyone, but here, I sampled the raspberry ribbon cheesecake. 

Best Pretzels: Glutino Pretzels

We all need a fine pretzel to snack on from time to time. They may not be the most nutritional in quality, but sometimes that is not what’s crucial. This is the type of pretzel that pairs so well with a beer, such as Bard’s on a hot summer day. Or any day. Another idea for using these pretzels comes from Food Network’s Aarti Sequeira who is gluten-sensitive: Pretzel-Fried Steak with Mango-Onion Gravy. This just sounds delicious. Coating the steak with rice (brown or white) flour may be easier than a GF baking mix and make sure to use a wheat-free soy sauce, too. 

Best Snack Bar: LÄRABAR

Having dietary issues means I have to take care of myself and have something to eat on me at all times in case I can't find something safe to eat while out and about. I always make sure I have one of these bars in my handbag. With almost twenty different flavors, there is little room to get tired of the same thing. My favorites are currently banana bread and apple pie, but I have yet to try the new ones. With no added sugar, LÄRABARs are made primarily from dates, nuts, fruits, etc. Their website claims that “LÄRABAR is a delicious blend of fruits, nuts and spices - energy in its purest form. Made from 100% whole food, each flavor contains two to nine ingredients. Pure and simple, just as nature intended.”