MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
Passover is right around the corner, and over the next few weeks, hundreds of thousands of pounds of matzo will ship to grocery stores everywhere. A few batches of this plain tasting cracker always sell out first because they contain shmura matzo. What's that, you say? Jeanne Baron reports.
JEANNE BARON: The pressure is on at the Manischewitz baking factory in Newark, New Jersey.
(Soundbite of banging)
BARON: This is the day Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz - dressed in a white overcoat and wearing a grimace of joy and stress - oversees the production of shmura, or watched, matzo.
All matzo is bread made without yeast, but shmura matzo is guarded by the watchful eyes of a team of rabbis from the field to the oven. Their job: prevent any trace of water mixing with the flour until the last minutes before baking.
Rabbi YAAKOV HOROWITZ: The very basic of kosher matzo rule requires that it goes from the mixing area to the oven in less than 18 minutes.
BARON: Jewish religious leaders say 18 minutes of contact between flour and water is about as long as you can go before fermentation sets in. A few religious leaders are on hand at the industrial bakery.
Rabbi HOROWITZ: Are we ready to start the process?
Unidentified Man #1: Yes.
BARON: Taking a cue from Rabbi Horowitz, two rabbis give a blessing, press a button next to a silver mixing cauldron and watch.
(Soundbite of beeping)
BARON: Rabbi Simcha Katz says shmura matzo stands out in his childhood memories.
Rabbi SIMCHA KATZ: I remember going to the Bostoner Rebbe, a group of people of us, young people were rolling it, and then the rabbi himself put it into the oven and watching it. And we said, wow, this is really exciting. And that matzo had a special taste.
BARON: Simcha and the others watch the high-tech machines press out a ribbon of dough. Suddenly, an official matzo maker opens a gate on the conveyor belt and just-cut squares of dough fall into a trap right before they go in the oven. The rabbis say these matzos are not up to snuff.
Rabbi HOROWITZ: Our matzos are going to trash. They're torn, they're broken, they're folded over.
Unidentified Man #2: This is - you see? It's like doubled. It's not baking good.
(Soundbite of man on walkie-talkie)
Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken) In few minutes, we'll be okay.
BARON: Soon, the familiar squares are rolling again. Manischewitz and other matzo makers bust out as much as 60 percent of their product line in the weeks before Passover. High stress?
Mr. KEVIN O'BRIEN (Head of Sales, Manischewitz): Very, very.
BARON: That's Manischewitz head of sales Kevin O'Brien.
Mr. O'BRIEN: I refer to it as, for me, it's PPS - pre-Passover syndrome. In layman's terms, it's like our Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and Hanukkah all rolled into one.
BARON: Manischewitz shmura matzo is heading to cedar tables from Canada to Argentina in the coming weeks. As for the matzo dough that didn't pass muster, it'll end up in animal feed.
For NPR News, I'm Jeanne Baron.
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