A constant draft of warm air flows throughout Streit’s Matzo factory, wafting the mouthwatering pancake-batter-like smell of uncooked matzo. Workers and rabbis in factory attire scurry across the flour dusted floors while dodging baskets of matzo, suspended from a trolley system attached to the ceiling. After all, Passover is just two weeks away, and the workers at Streit’s are in for their busiest time of year.
“It’s a terribly inefficient factory here,” says Alan Adler, great-grandson of Aron Streit, who founded Streit’s in 1925. “But there’s a history to it, and we put up with the inefficiencies because of it.”
The iconic factory, along with its time-honored matzo recipe, has remained in the family for nearly 100 years. Aside from a few upgrades, Streit’s has been using the same machines and methods since its first days. With giant convection ovens nearly 80 feet long and massive mixing bowls that could easily fit a person inside, the matzo mill usually yields around 40,000 pounds of matzo per day.
Jews traditionally eat the unleavened bread during the weeklong holiday of Passover, which begins on April 6. When the Israelites fled their homes in Egypt, they did not have enough time to bake their bread, and were instead forced to survive by eating an unleavened mixture of flour and water. To this day, Jews commemorate the practice by abstaining from eating leavened grain during Passover.
In order to keep things Kosher, four full-time rabbis strictly monitor the matzo at Streit’s. But for Passover, the process becomes even more complicated since the matzo must be made with mayim shelanu, or water that has settled in a cool place overnight. After the workers add the settled water, they must finish baking the matzo in 18 minutes or less.
“Every piece of matzo does look a little different,” says Adler. In fact, Adler says different floors produce slightly different tasting matzo, and that the matzo baked on the Clinton street side is always a little bit darker than the rest of the batch. “No two are alike. They’re kind of like snowflakes.”
His sentimental attitude towards matzo is directly apparent in one of the company’s many slogans: “The taste of a memory…since 1925.” Adler, who practically grew up in the factory, recalls his grandfather handing him a piece of matzo to eat . “I ate it and I said, ‘Ew, this is horrible.’ Turns out it was from the competition’s. He wanted to see if I could taste the difference.”