Shortly after I got married I went to visit my mother-in -law who was, when I arrived at her home in Brooklyn, enjoying a matzo with butter. What a surprise, they’re actually large square water biscuits and I love them.
Matzo is a cracker like unleavened bread made of plain white flour and water. The dough is not allowed to rise during baking, which produces a crispy flatbread. It’s a substitute for bread during the Jewish holiday of Passover, which starts at sundown today, when eating chametz (bread and leavened products) is not allowed.
Eating matzo (matza) is considered a positive mitzvah (an act of human kindness).
People do eat matzos throughout the year and, while I don’t consider myself a connoisseur of which brand is best, for me it’s Streit’s. I read in Parade magazine yesterday that Streit’s was founded in 1925 by Aron Streit and his sons, and the factory is most definitely a part of the history of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The area was a busy center of Jewish immigrant life, with the last influx of Jewish immigrants arriving around 1918.
Streit’s is kosher, which means that all the baking is done under the supervision of rabbis. They back many flavors of matzo, but they follow procedure to bake the Passover matzo and that’s the one made with only flour and water.
Baking for Passover starts in the fall and the seasonings and extra ingredients are removed and the entire factory cleaned under rabbinic supervision to make sure it meets Biblical standards.
“Some of the equipment in the factory today dates back to the 1930s. The wire baskets that carry the matzo from floor to floor are still used today.
The convection ovens in the factory are heated to about 700 degrees, but temperatures vary slightly from one side of the building to the other. (The Clinton Street side is hotter.) And as weather conditions change, the mixture changes slightly. When it’s more humid out, they’ll add a little more flour.”
Today, Streit’s is the only family owned and operated matzo factory in the country and many people identify the product with the Lower East Side where families started life in their new home.
If you’d like to read the article and see some pictures of the process click on Parade.