The first thing you smell when you drive past the farms and woods, down the winding, hilly road to Tinder Hearth Bakery in Brooksville, is smoke. Wood smoke, to be exact, mixed with the slightest hint of salt air from the ocean less than a mile away.
The smell is coming from inside the old white farmhouse that houses Tinder Hearth, which bakes European-style loaves, buttery croissants and, at least once a week, crispy, all-organic pizza, in a huge, handmade brick oven nicknamed Svetlana.
Owners Tim Semler, 29, and Lydia Moffet, 28, natives of Brooksville and nearby Deer Isle, respectively, started the bakery as a full-time commercial operation in 2007. By then, Semler was already deep into learning the art of making ovens out of brick and clay and baking old-fashioned bread in them. Over the course of several years he built two clay ovens, one tiny, one larger, on Tinder Hearth’s property, which has been in his family for several generations.
Moffet was learning right along with him.
“He was baking bread already in this little clay oven, and was driving around just giving it out to people in the area,” said Moffet. “In 2009, we were able to get the money to build a real brick oven in the house, and we built it by hand, with the help of the community and all our family and friends. We’ve been doing it that way since 2010.”
Their bread is European-style: tangy and dense, with a chewy crust and a luscious interior. The French batard, their most popular offering, practically screams to be dipped in olive oil. They make several others, including a boule made with all Maine grains, a dark German rye and foccacia. They also make a proper croissant — crispy, not squishy, with enough butter in it already that it certainly doesn’t need any more. They make spelt bread, too, which differs greatly from the bland spelt breads found in health food stores; it’s got a nutty flavor and a pleasing texture, and is made with or without raisins.
“Our bread is extremely wet when we bake it, because we don’t use any instant yeast,” said Moffet. “We don’t have to knead it, so it comes out very dense. It’s got a lot of character. It’s a very old-fashioned way of making bread.”
The vibe at Tinder Hearth is a combination of laid-back attitude and industrious self-reliance. It’s tucked away in the sparsely populated western part of the Blue Hill Peninsula, so those who want to buy from the company must travel a bit, or wait until it’s delivered Tuesdays and Fridays to the Blue Hill Wine Shop, the Blue Hill Co-op, the Cave in Brooklin, 44 North Coffee in Deer Isle, Burnt Cove Market in Stonington, John Edwards Market in Ellsworth and The Store Ampersand in Orono.
Tinder Hearth grows greens and raises chickens and several pigs a year for sausage, and locally sources produce and cheese for the brick oven pizza it makes two nights a week during the summer. Until the first week of June, pizza is only available on Tuesdays, after which it will be available on Fridays, as well. It is the humble opinion of this reporter — an opinion that is shared by most pizza aficionados — that there is but one thing that makes a great pizza, and that is a great crust. Considering the way Tinder Hearth approaches bread, it’s no surprise that its pizza crust is full of flavor and tasty on its own, and stands up to toppings.
“I wouldn’t even want to count the hours we’ve put in,” said Moffet. “But I can pretty definitively say that we aren’t in it for the money.”
You can follow Tinder Hearth Bakery on its Facebook page for updates and specials, or call them at 326-8381.