SAN FRANCISCO – They’re baaack. Duly chastened by the Great Tam Tam Crisis of spring ’08, the Manischewitz Company went into overdrive and will have plenty of the crunchy six-sided unleavened crackers available this Passover season.
“Absolutely,” declared the company’s former CEO Bruce Bossidy last November.
Bossidy joined the country’s first and still largest matzah-making concern in January 2008 and spent much of the year bringing in new management and getting the new matzah production line up and running at the company’s year-old, $15 million facility in Newark, N.J.
But the clock ran down and early last year, Bossidy was forced to cancel Tam Tams for the first time in 68 years.
The outcry was immediate; Jewish consumers coast to coast mourned the absence of the beloved cracker. Stories ran not only in the Jewish media but The New York Times and New York Daily News, and on NPR. The blogosphere exploded with anger. A black market sprang up, with one Michigan rabbi offering three boxes of the previous year’s crackers on eBay; bidding started at $10.
This April, however, there will be more than enough to go around. All flavors of Passover Tam Tam crackers will be available except for Tiny Tams, which were not made because of complications with the die cut used to create them. Bossidy also promised a sufficient amount of Passover matzah; last year saw shortages of the unleavened holiday bread in the Northeast and along the West Coast during the eight-day holiday.
While Manischewitz makes an array of kosher products, it was founded in 1888 as the country’s first commercial matzah bakery and matzah remains central to its mission.
Like most kosher food manufacturers, Manischewitz’s busiest season is Passover. Fifty percent of its business involves kosher-for-Passover food, particularly matzah, which is an extremely labor-intensive product.
As one of two sacramental foods required at the seder table, along with wine, production is carefully controlled to ensure that water only comes into contact with the flour for less than 18 minutes. Longer than that and, according to rabbinic authorities, leavening begins.
In industrial production, a mashgiach, or kosher supervisor, must watch the flour from the time the wheat is milled until water is introduced to the flour during the mixing process. At that point the dough is given even closer supervision to make sure it is completely baked in less than 18 minutes.
Manischewitz begins making Passover matzah immediately after Labor Day and its manufacture continued until late February. During the five-month season, up to 20 mashgichim work on the product. This year for the first time the factory is using only kosher-for-Passover flour year-round, even for its daily matzah. Although the flour is more expensive to produce, it costs the company much less than shutting down the entire plant for four or five weeks every summer for re-kashering. Now the annual kashering takes about a week.
During the height of the Passover production season, one or two truckloads of flour arrive at the Manischewitz plant every day, about 500,000 pounds a week.
Nearly 76 million sheets of matzah are produced each year, enough to circle the globe if one wanted to waste perfectly good matzah in such a foolhardy way. (JTA)Sue Fishkoff