NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

March 26, 2014

The matzo makeover

It's not just your grandmother's recipe anymore

(Continued)

“There’s been quite a bit of movement in the matzo,” observed Menachem Lubinsky, Koshertoday.com editor and co-producer of Kosherfest, an event he helped found 25 years ago. “I think the sky’s the limit here. The opportunities are enormous.”

Kosherfest is scheduled to take place in November in New Jersey this year. Last year, it featured about 11 flavors of matzo, he said.

With only two major mass manufacturers of matzo left in the U.S., Manischewitz in Newark, N.J., and family-owned Streit’s on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, American box matzo has lost ground to imports, primarily from Israel, Lubinsky said. More traditional, round and extra crispy handmade matzo — especially “shmura” made of a carefully guarded grain, is also popular.

Lubinsky and others see increasing interest in matzo among non-Jews, and from Jews year-round.

“We do just as much matzo during the year as we do for Passover,” said Aaron Gross, in the fifth generation of the Streit family. “It wasn’t always that way. It used to be probably 80 percent Passover, 20 percent daily.”

The U.S. matzo market is worth about $86 million a year and the Israeli market more than $100 million, Lubinsky estimated.

Even old-school matzo makers like Streit’s offer a variety year-round — including whole-wheat and Mediterranean, with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil. But the company sticks closer to basics for Passover, adhering to special procedures that include thorough cleanings of the nearly century-old factory, a six-story plant in a string of old tenements. Equipment is scrubbed again and again between batches, and the matzo must bake within 18 minutes once the water and wheat are mixed — all under rabbinical supervision.

Streit’s produces 2,000 pounds of kosher-for-Passover matzo an hour between September and two weeks before the holiday begins.

“It’s just a very painstaking, long, labor-intensive process, and we’ve been doing it the same way all these years,” said Gross, who runs the plant with two cousins.

“They say the most difficult things to make are with the fewest ingredients,” he added. “You can’t get much fewer than flour and water, right?”

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