Interview with Coastal New England Rising Star Artisan Eli Cayer of Urban Farm Fermentory – Portland, ME

by Meha Desai
March 2014

Meha Desai: How did you get your start in the industry?

Eli Cayer: I got my start through bee keeping. One year I had a lot of honey. I ate some, gave some away, and still had lots left over. So, I decided to ferment the rest and make mead. This was in 2002. I started doing more and more research and reading books about mead. That’s how I learnt. We started out as a winery.

MD: What is your most important fermenting rule?

EC: Have patience, and when its time for action, get it done.

MD: Your favorite brew you’ve made…

EC: One of my favorite cidahs has been the ICHI san, for which I used sake yeast to do the job of fermentation. It had a delicious peppiness to it that worked so well with the brothy one pot noodle dishes I love. We've done so many fun kombuchas. Hopped kombuchas rock, the Strawberry kombucha is amazing but the ghost pepper kombucha tends to blow people’s minds and is a very nice addition to any beverage. I'm a big fan and thoroughly encourage the blending of all our beverages in growlers.

MD: Where do you most want to go for culinary travel?

EC: Honestly I’m down to check out the locally enjoyed foods from wherever I am. I remember going to Hawaii once and all I wanted was native foods... fresh and dried fish, kelp, fruits but everyone I asked pointed me to McDonalds. I finally found what I was looking for but it sure took longer than I expected! I've traveled all over North America so I would love to check out traditional foods from every where else on the planet. I know that’s pretty broad so let’s narrow it down to either Europe or Asia.

MD: On your night off you drink…

EC: If I am in the mood for an adult beverage, saisons are generally my jam, but lately I’ve enjoyed a hoppy brew called The Substance from the boys at Bissel Brothers. I really like the farmhouse styles from my homies at Oxbow Brewing. I tend to shy away from spirits, but Maine Craft Distilling’s Ration rum is super sippable.

MD: What’s your 5 year plan?

EC: At the moment we have a 10,000 square foot space where we make mead, kombucha, and ciders, have a tasting room and a community market with local farmers and artisans. We’re building a greenhouse in the back to grow our own herbs and other ingredients for our brews. We distribute all over Maine now. The big vision is to just keep expanding. I would love to include lacto-fermented foods like kimchi. I’m creating a larger scene, with pieces people are drawn to so they can know what’s in their backyard and how they can use it. Eventually I would like to have UFF in other states—but use what’s local and relevant to them for fermenting. I also have plans to get in to grain fermenting as we get more space, since right now we can’t have grains and a winery in the same space. A brewery would be great!