Matzah is a meal best eaten at dark. So as the sun set and a wall of cardboard containers reflected my dim dining room lights, I approached a challenge only laxative-lovers could appreciate: Eat 10 types of shmurah matzah — the typically round, handmade matzah that tends to grace seder tables, but can be the only matzah consumed over the entire course of the holiday for some groups — examine their overall appeal and crown one champion for a perhaps less-adventurous readership.
This pleasantly “crumby” assignment, like the horseradish contest from two weeks ago, was the brainchild of our editor-in-chief, apparently in cahoots with our publisher and CEO, who when arriving at my doorstep several mornings back with a sack of presents slung over his shoulder apologized that only eight boxes had yet been delivered.
Shmurah matzah, which is often pricier and more challenging to acquire than its more familiar machine-made counterpart, is a specially guarded item. From the time that the matzah’s wheat is harvested, supervisors ensure that no water or moisture encounters the substance.
Prior to opening any of the boxes, I carefully stacked them and deliberated how best to approach the task. After acute contemplation and considerable wasted time online, I determined that replaying various renditions of the main theme from the 1960 film “Exodus” was a seasonally appropriate accompaniment to my duodenal delight, so like Roberta Flack, I “set the night to music.”
Although shmurah matzah number two (Jerusalem Shmura Matzos) also weighed a single pound, it came in a smaller carrier than number one. Though scientifically inconclusive to me, I speculated whether diminution affected comminution. Nonetheless, number two provided ample char and an introduction to a flavor that would become more familiar as the evening progressed.
Before beginning shmurah matzah number three, which came from Lakewood Shmurah Matzoh Bakery, I amplified my tunes. Ferrante & Teicher’s “Theme From Exodus” forcefully filled the air. Acoustically inspired, I crossed my personal sea and split the achromatic carton.
Before ravenously devouring the New Jersey nosh, my 9-year-old daughter asked what I was doing. After proudly explaining my professional duties, I invited her to join me. Perhaps intrigued by my obligation, or maybe because she was merely hungry, she bit into the shmurah specimen.
“It’s plain,” she said.
No further explanation was offered before she, like her ancestors, wandered off.
Shmurah matzah number four (Holyland Hand Made Shmura Matzo) showed some serious ink with multiple fonts cut across a scene of Jerusalem’s city walls. The boldness of the package’s design mirrored the ferocity of its content’s crunch. The sound of such cracking could only be likened to a setting in which, after being narrowly edged out by an adversarial den-mate in the pinewood derby, a Boy Scout breaks the code of conduct and snaps his opponent’s car by slamming it over his knee like Bo Jackson with a bat.
Haddar’s Chabura Shmura Matzos served as the fifth selection. Like selection number two, the material arrived in a similarly sized square paper vessel. Although a side panel read “old fashioned,” the taste was far from stale. From the 15 packaged pieces a particular smoothness captured my palate, and as The Vagrants performed their rendition of “Theme from Exodus,” a particular coolness arose.
Immediately disrupting my moment of suavity was the realization that several samplings of shmurah matzah remained.
Number seven was from the same manufacturers. For some reason though this one was enclosed in transparent wrap and marked with the words “sealed for freshness.” After removing that layer and a subsequent sticker, I opened the thick repository and discovered multiple matzahs packed within. Following careful extraction and sequential consumption, I determined that piquancy is most likely an acquired taste which I lack.
The shmurah matzah taste test almost ended at number eight. Described by matzahdepot.com as “cheap shmurah matzah from Israel,” this Visnitz-baked item possessed a seal almost impossible to puncture. After utilizing a knife to bust the mark, I found the casing equally challenging to unlock. There was a white sticker beside the title, reading, “whole wheat,” which given my difficulties encountered, I interpreted to mean, “Rest assured, no ‘half wheat’ permitted.”
Once I finally pried the package free, I found an immediate slew of broken pieces — most likely caused by my wrestling with the box. But despite the shards of shmurah spilling out, the fragments elicited a not-obnoxiously noticeable crunch and with minimal aftertaste. They honestly reminded me of tam tam crackers, which is about as culinarily astute as saying, “Seltzer tastes like water with carbonation.”
Shmurah matzah number nine (Tiferet Hamatzot) offered the nicest packaging yet. A stunning yellow box included a blurred photograph of five cups of wine, a decanter and a full bottle. Given that the Passover seder is typically highlighted by four cups of the red drink, these artists were clearly envisioning some sort of after party with Elijah the Prophet.
Along with the bevy of beverages were three kosher certifications and a side panel that not only delivered a tale of “Matzah — The Food of Faith,” but a thorough explanation of shmurah’s characteristics.
Lest one fret that little attention was paid to interior splendor, number nine boasted the only matzah wrapped in brown tissue paper. But alas, I should have remembered the classic adage: “Don’t judge a matzah by its box.”
If my tongue could create a char factor, this one would have registered somewhere between blackened toast and coal. It was a shame, because not only did I really want to like it, I kept ingesting more bits to alter my assessment. Ultimately, however, although my eyes said, “Yes,” my mind said, “No.”
Coincidentally, my final shmurah matzah (Seder Table Matzoh Gluten-Free Oat) arrived just as French singer Édith Piaf had completed her stirring turn at “Exodus.”
After removing the minimally restrictive wrapping, I found several small circular matzahs inside the pale colored pouch. Although the exterior writing noted that only three “handmade round” discs would be included, there was actually an extra half. What an unexpected treat. Equally surprising was how doughy the substances were; they were actually quite delightful.
Prior to undertaking this shmurah matzah taste test, I was brazenly reminded by two readers that relishing requires choosing. Fair enough, so in coupling such admonition with the words of the estimable Emily Dickinson, who wrote, “The heart wants what it wants,” I select number nine (Tiferet Hamatzot), which despite delivering a superior aesthetic experience granted a somewhat less than Lilliputian savoring.
Don’t judge me.
Perhaps I’m a slave to superficiality, or maybe I’m truly enjoying the bread of affliction. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.