The Great Gut Check Matzo Tasting of 2011
The Jewish holiday of Passover and its oppressive dietary regime of eight days of matzo has descended up on us with the surety of the Angel of Death. Yeah, yeah, it's hard to compare a week of eating cardboard with the slaughter of all the Egyptian firstborn (the Angel even got the cattle!), but we presume that at least the death was quick and relatively painless. And matzo is called -- in the haggadah, the sacred text of the Passover seder, no less! -- the "bread of affliction."
Matzo is the taste of freedom, and don't you forget it!
According to legend (also reprinted in the haggadah), when our forefathers and -mothers finally got to leave Egypt, they had to skip town so quickly, they didn't have time to let their bread rise. For some reason, though, they decided they had time to bake said bread, so now, 4,000 years later, we remember them by eating matzo.
A few years ago, during the Great Matzo Shortage of 2008, Friend of Gut Check Rabbi Hershey Novack stockpiled 32 boxes of the stuff. He explained his hoarding thus: "It's good to have in case of an earthquake. It lasts for hundreds of years. When the archaeologists in the future look through the rubble to find out what we ate, the only thing they're going to find is matzo."
Can matzo really last that long? Wouldn't we taste some evidence of staleness or spoilage? Gut Check endeavored to find out.
Regrettably, Gut Check doesn't have matzo that's hundreds of years old, but in '08 we learned our lesson and began storing our uneaten matzo under the kitchen sink. Since Manischewitz, the leading maker of our nation's matzo, has a charming habit of printing the year of production on its packaging (just like bottles of fine wine!), we knew exactly how old each box was.
O, matzo, thy varieties are infinite!
We assembled boxes of Manischewitz from 2008, 2009 and 2011 and, just for fun, some super-holy Matzo Shmuroh handmade in Israel, also in 2008. (We lacked the Manischewitz 2010 because New York Times food guru Mark Bittman saved our life last year -- almost like Moses! -- by writing a column introducing the world to his olive oil matzo. Its holiness may be suspect, but it tastes infinitely better. We converted our sad little box of Manischewitz into Smitten Kitchen's chocolate caramel crack(ers), which is the best thing that could have ever happened to it.)
Then we coerced our co-workers into participating in a blind taste test to see if they could tell the difference between the various vintages. Gut Check takes this sort of thing very seriously: We prepared a questionnaire and asked everyone to rate the four different matzot on the criteria of crunch, amount of flavor, swallowability and overall taste on a scale of one to four, one being the best. We also added a bonus question: "Would you want to eat this instead of bread for eight days straight?"
Our four candidates. Front (left to right): Manischewitz 2009, 2011 and 2008. Rear: Matzo Shmuroh. Plus a Maxwell House Haggadah in case anyone had any theological questions. No one did.
And then the fun began.