Streit’s: Matzo in the Making

Streit's Storefront

Streit's signature red logo marks the location of the factory in Manhattan's Lower East Side.

By Amy Zhang

Crunchy, nutty, slightly burnt. Whole wheat, egg-flavored, Mediterranean and chocolate-covered. For a Jewish cracker with multiple Facebook groups dedicated to lambasting its blandness, you wouldn’t expect such variety. But for the director of operations at Streit’s Matzo Factory located on the weathered streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the possibilities are endless.

“Every piece of matzo does look a little different,” said Alan Adler, great-grandson of Aron Streit, who founded the factory in 1925. “No two are alike. They’re kind of like snowflakes.”

According to Jewish tradition, matzo was first created when the Israelites fled their homes in Egypt. Led by Moses, they survived by eating an unleavened mixture of flour and water.

“We eat matzo to symbolize when the Jews left Egypt, and they didn’t have time to let the bread rise,” said Adina Snapstailer, a Jewish student at the University of Central Florida. “It’s a time when our family comes together and we tell the whole story of Passover.

During Passover, which begins on April 6, observant Jews must refrain from eating chametz, Hebrew for leavened products. Instead, they replace cakes, cookies and breads with Passover matzo. And the cookery rules are strict.

Trays meander through the factory, cooling matzo squares before they are packaged.

“It’s such a complicated process,” said Nicole Chermak, an NYU sophomore who regularly attends the Bronfman Center of NYU’a Shabbat dinners. “I’m a Jew, and I didn’t even know.”

The four floors of Streit’s Matzo Factory operate year-round to produce regular matzo, but when Passover rolls around the building is shut down to prepare. Passover matzo is made from mayim shelanu, or water that has settled in a cool place overnight. Four full-time rabbis pray over the matzo regularly during the production process. The factory must finish baking the matzo in 18 minutes flat, and those 18 minutes start from when the white perforated squares of matzo dough enter the long oven and end when they finally make their appearance on the trolley systems meandering throughout the factory.

However, the rigorous rules have not replaced flavor at the factory. Streit’s has regularly won taste contests for its matzo products. But for a man in a family business, Adler says nostalgia is enough.

“The professional chefs that have done blind taste tests talk about the nutty flavor, and the texture and the consistency,” Adler said. “I just know I grew up with it … and I prefer it.”

A version of this article was printed in the April 5 print edition of the Washington Square news. View the original article here. Additional reporting by Professor Philip Rosenbaum’s Journalistic Inquiry Class.

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