Old World Flavor

A Shmura Matzo Factory

By Rebecca Dube

Published March 24, 2009, issue of April 03, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Walk through the unmarked black doors of a nondescript brick building in Brooklyn, and you stumble onto a time machine.

Here, at one of the half-dozen or so shmura matzo factories remaining in New York, a bustling team of bakers keeps alive the art of making matzo the old-fashioned way.

“This is the way it was done when they first made the matzo, going back 3,000 years, maybe more,” said Yitzchok Tenenbaum, manager of Crown Heights’ D & T Shmura Bakery, as he watches crisp, smoking rounds of matzo being pulled from the roaring coal- and wood-fired oven. “It’s good stuff — just flour and water, no preservatives.”

Like the original matzo the Jews made as they fled Egypt, everything at a shmura matzo bakery is done by hand — and quickly. Shmura means “watched” or “guarded,” and indeed, every step is carefully supervised.

The process starts when flour and water — each stored in separate booths to prevent accidental mixing — are kneaded together. A runner then carries the sticky dough to a long, narrow table that is covered in brown butcher paper. About two dozen people briskly roll egg-sized lumps into dinner-plate-sized rounds. Above the roar of the fans and the clank of their wooden rolling pins, the women and a few of the men chat and laugh. The scene might come straight from a drawing of the ancient Israelites, minus the iPod cords dangling from some of the young men’s ears.

The rollers drape their finished products over wooden pins and send them to a smaller table, where the rounds are punched through with tiny holes.

From there, five or six matzot are hung over a long wooden rod and pushed over to the baker. With practiced movements, he slides them into the 1,000-degree oven, flipping them into place. Instantly, the thin dough begins to brown and crackle. After about a minute, the baker reaches into the oven again and pulls out the finished matzot.

Unlike factory-made matzo, shmura matzo is rough around the edges, usually blackened in places. That’s all part of the charm.

“They have a real, honest-to-goodness, handmade matzo,” said Scott Goldshine, general manager and matzo buyer at Zabar’s, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. At Zabar’s shmura matzo at $20 to $25 a pound finds a market outside its primarily Hasidic customer base. “It’s not even, it’s burned. That really adds a touch of authenticity to the Seder, which means a lot to people.”

Photos by Ari Jankelowitz/Foto 22

  • Image 1
  • Image 2
  • Image 3
  • Image 4
  • Image 5


Rebecca Dube is a staff reporter at the Forward.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.