B A LT I M O R E J E W I S H H O M E . C O M
THE BALTIMORE JEWISH HOME
MARCH 22, 2018
From Wheatfield to Pesach Table: STAR-K Kosher Certification Takes You Behind the Scenes at Migrash Farm By Margie Pensak The hefty $20-$50 price per pound of handmade shmura matzah may cause you to raise your eyebrows, especially when comparing it to the price of machine-made matzah, but if you only knew what goes into manufacturing the crisp, paper-thin, artisanal specialty item you would understand why it is so pricey. To keep up with the increasing demand for handmade shmura matzah, matzah bakeries around the world start baking as early as October! But, actually, the labor-intensive process of producing STAR-K certified shmura flour began a few months before, in July. That is when HaRav Moshe Heinemann visited the 28-acre Migrash Farm—located inside the Chesapeake Watershed, just a stone’s throw from STAR-K’s Baltimore headquarters. The farmer, R’ Yosef Hertzmark, who doubles as a STAR-K menaker, accompanied the Rav as he walked the fields to supervise the shmura wheat harvest, deeming its extra level of scrutiny-- “shmurah m’shaas ketzira” (guarded from the time of harvest). The flour’s supervision began even earlier than July 11: it started when the grain was planted, last fall, to ensure the crop would be yoshon, and then when the plants started to form seed heads, these were monitored for grain fill and sprouting. Once the kernels start to harden—but, before they sprout new shoots—the wheat is plucked. Since it will be stored until it is milled months later, it must be guarded and stored in a climate-controlled environment. If it is too dry, it will have poor milling qualities and thus poor baking qualities; if it is too moist, it could become moldy and or chometz. As its Hebrew name “shmura” implies, the ingredients that go into this type of matzah are “guarded” against leavening, or becoming chometz, by taking extra precautions.
Wheat Harvesting 101 The shmura wheat manufacturing process is not simple. An understanding of the general life cycle of the crops and the harvesting process will give you a better understanding of what is involved. The planting takes place in the fall; there is initial growth and then dormancy in the winter; there is heavy growth in early spring; and, finally, the flowering and grain set in early summer. The harvesting process includes: the cutting of the crop in the field; threshing the crop to separate grain from chaff; winnowing to clean separated grains from the stalks and chaff; and, drying down grains to 1416% moisture for storage. “We keep tabs on the weather because we want to be harvesting the grains at their peak ripeness while the shibolim are at their peak dryness,” explains R’Yosef. “Too early, and the grains will be under ripe, and without quick drying, these grains are more prone to sprouting or molding, thus making them posul for shmura. if the grains stand on the stalk too long in the field, they are also more prone to sprouting. If the grains are ripe, but there has just been a rain, the wet grains will be hard to harvest and again will be more prone to sprouting and/or molding in storage. We are looking for the perfect intersection of ripeness and dryness.” To properly understand the cereals in the context of shmura matzo (and yoshon), the two main areas of understanding and experience are: 1) grass anatomy and morphology, i.e., what are the different parts/structures of the plant and how do they vary between varieties and species; and 2) crop phenology, i.e., how the crop develops and grows through its lifecycle.
“Regarding structures, we are primarily looking at the grain heads (shiboles in Hebrew) and then specifically at the grains themselves,” notes R’Yosef. “Are the kernels cured or are they starting to grow? We check this both in the field before harvest and in storage. For the life cycle, we are interested in when the kernel starts to root in the ground after seeding the field as
this determines that crop’s status relative to yoshon.” Keeping Crops Separate Because we require an unadulterated grain crop for shmura matzo, we concern ourselves with other seeds that might mix in with the crops. There are many field crops and weeds that share a similar seasonal timeframe with the
Baltimore Jewish Home - 3-22-18