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!
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • 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.