The Matzo Project Attempts the Impossible: Making Matzo Cool
By Sarah Zorn
Anything can lose its savor if you’re forced to subsist on it for eight straight days; especially if that something is the brittle, unleavened, and fundamentally flavorless flatbread known as matzo. But if Ashley Albert—who’s already managed to make shuffleboard cool at Gowanus’s Royal Palms—has her way, it could soon become a coveted, year-round staple in every Brooklynites pantry, rather than a Passover-only default-bread substitute, for religiously observant Jews.
Eager to free fellow tribe members from the tyranny of Streit’s and Manischewitz, she and partner Kevin Rodriguez—a former Jewish summer camp buddy—recently launched The Matzo Project by baking off hand-rolled, pleasingly uneven sheets, one at a time. Then, they are moistened with coconut oil, and speckled with quality toppers like Himalayan sea salt, everything seasoning, or cinnamon sugar.
“My mom and I were walking by the Streit’s factory on the Lower East Side one day, and peeked through the windows to watch the guys work. One of them noticed us and passed a hot-out-of-the-oven piece through the bars of the window. It was the freshest matzo I’d ever encountered and, amazingly, it still managed to taste stale!” remembers Albert of her light bulb moment. “And while the matzo that so many of us grew up with is so steeped in nostalgia that there will always be a place for it in my heart (and on my plate), it felt like it was in need of an upgrade.”
Even though the squares bake in the spiritually prescribed 18 minutes or less, Albert’s exceedingly small batch matzo-making method means the company operates at limited capacity. In fact, when they officially launch on April 15th, they only intend to release a finite number of boxes to Shelsky’s, Stinky Chelsea, Peck’s, Farmigo.com and Greene Grape. “Based on the response we’ve gotten before officially telling anybody about it, it’s clear that we’re gonna have to scale up really quickly,” said Albert, “which is no small feat when you’re attempting to make a product that nobody else is making!”
That said, they’ve been able to transform all their irregular pieces into steady supplies of Chocolate Matzo Buttercrunch (available in Milk Chocolate Pecan, Dark Chocolate Almond, and Pecan Cinnamon Bun), which the aforementioned stores should be able to keep in stock, long after the Salted Matzo is gone. “We’re also collaborating with Ample Hills on a limited edition buttercrunch flavor that comes out next week!” Albert adds.
They fully intend to ramp up activity once the holiday hubbub dies down, cultivating a partnership with a commercial kosher bakery, preparing for their debut at the Fancy Food Show in June, and ensuring that their matzo ball soup kit, matzo chips and matzo crumbs (along with their not-so-traditional sheets of snappy, toasty matzo), should be ready to hit shelves by fall. So don’t sweat it if you can’t score a stash for your Seder table, as they may eventually be destined to take the place of pretzels and pita crisps in your cupboard.
“Our version of matzo is ultimately just a really simple, extra-versatile, super-sturdy cracker,” insists Albert. It stands up well to heavy dips, melted cheese, and chunky spreads, but is also perfectly scrumptious with just a slather of salted butter. It’s low fat and made with four ingredients. I mean, who wouldn’t want to eat it year round?”