Visit to the Matzah Bakery
By Judah S. Harris
Walk into any matzah factory in the weeks just before Passover and you'll be greeted by rows of brown cardboard cartons, each packed with one and two‑pound boxes of handmade matzah. Distinct in taste and unique in texture, this easily recognizable Passover staple is consumed by a large segment of the Jewish population during the eight‑day springtime holiday, as well as by Non‑Jews, who are either curious or, perhaps, already committed fans of what is commonly referred to as Shmurah Matzah.
Shmurah matzah (which can also be produced by machine) is made from wheat that has been carefully watched from the time of harvest, protected from contact with any form of moisture that might render it leavened and unsuitable for Passover use. In larger bakeries, the matzah‑baking season runs from December right up to the days before Passover. At bakeries such as the Charedim Shmurah Matzoh Bakery in Brooklyn, NY, where these photographs were taken, the air is filled with the smells of baked matzah, even burnt matzah, and a quick pace of activity and chores, mingles with the sounds of a number of languages: English, Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian...
After the water and flour is mixed in a protected room, the dough is pounded and then small balls are provided to the men and women standing at long tables. With narrow wooden pins, they roll them into the circular shapes of the matzah. The round shapes are then brought to another table where holes are poked with a metal roller. The unbaked matzah is then hung on long wooden sticks, after which it is handed to the worker who inserts them into the brick oven. His job is one of the hardest and hottest. The high temperatures of the stone bake the thin matzahs in less than a minute. After they are removed from the oven, they are placed in a wooden crate and taken to the packing area. The whole process, start to finish, takes less than 18 minutes, as required by Jewish law.
Many customers come by to pick up their orders, and it's not uncommon for people to purchase large amounts for their extended families, communities or congregations. Which matzah factory makes the best matzah, you wonder? First let's resolve the Coke vs. Pepsi quandary, then we'll attempt this one. Many consumers have their favorite supplier. It may be a matter of loyalty, tradition, taste ‑ or a combination of all. Some prefer a thinner matzah, some whole wheat, even spelt. Some like it crisp and some definitely do not. One thing is for sure: Immediately after Passover, most of us are more than ready to have a nice piece of bread.