A Loss for the Cheese World: Daphne Zepos of Essex Street Cheese Company

On Tuesday July 3rd, the food community lost one of its finest, Daphne Zepos.

I’ll always remember the first time I met Daphne.  I was young, hungry, and just beginning to explore the world of cheese as a cheesemonger at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor.  Daphne, wearing a brilliantly colored silk scarf, waltzed into our weekly department meeting with a large wedge of cheese in tow.  She gracefully unfolded a beautiful cheese knife, and proceeded to cut us each a generous taste of Comté as she shared the history and wonder of one of France’s finest cheeses.  She dazzled everyone in the room with her poetry and passion, and within minutes, we were all under her magical spell.  I’d never before encountered anyone I wanted to be when I grew up.  Daphne touched everyone she met, and everyone who met her, however briefly, felt her joie de vivre.  As we mourn Daphne’s passing, her legacy lives on, through the many cheesemongers she taught and inspired and, of course, her exquisite selection of cheeses.

Sam wanted to share his thoughts about Daphne, too:

“Daphne was one of those special people that changed you forever. I can’t look at a piece of cheese without thinking about her. She taught me how to taste cheese, to think about it differently than I ever had before meeting her, to care for it, to appreciate it and more importantly to respect the work that a skilled farmer, cheese maker and affineur has on the final product. I feel blessed to have known her and to have been inspired by her vision and hard work.”

Ari Weinzweig, owner of Zingerman’s, had this to say:

“For the past two decades, Daphne has led the US farmstead cheese movement as a teacher, cheese monger, importer, writer, world traveler and extraordinary educator. She was one of the most outspoken, insightful and dynamic advocates for traditional cheese in the U.S. and around the world.

Daphne served as a board member of the American Cheese Society and did formative work as the Chairperson of the organization’s Annual Judging. She was a co-founder of the Cheese of Choice Coalition, an advocacy group dedicated to the preservation of raw milk and artisan cheeses. From 2002 to 2005, she played a lead role in selecting and maturing more than 300 cheeses in Artisanal Premium Cheese Center’s pioneering affinage cheese caves in Manhattan, established Artisanal’s Affinage Internship Program and, contributed to creating and running Artisanal’s Cheese Master Class program. In 2006, Daphne founded the Essex Street Cheese Company, which imports a small selection of hand-selected cheeses from Europe, and in 2011 she purchased The Cheese School of San Francisco, which is the only independent institution of its kind in the U.S., dedicated to helping people appreciate cheese through education and tasting events. Over the years, she taught at Slow Food’s bi-annual Cheese festival in Bra, Italy, at the College of Marin, the Cheese School of San Francisco, Neal’s Yard Dairy in London and at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor.  Most recently she was the recipient of the 2012 American Cheese Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Unique, unselfish, and unrelenting, Daphne will be remembered for her love of cheese and for the way she poetically shared her passions. The world is a far better, more flavorful, more fun place for having had her in it.  Daphne and her husband, artist Brad Brown, were living here in the Mission when she passed away, surrounded by her family, of cancer at age 52. She will be missed.”

At Daphne’s request, donations can be sent to support ongoing education for cheese professionals.  They can be made in Daphne’s memory through the American Cheese Education Foundation online at www.cheesefoundation.org, by mail to: ACE Foundation c/o American Cheese Society, 2696 S. Colorado Blvd., Suite 570, Denver, CO 80222, or by calling 720-328-2788 x300.


2 Responses to “A Loss for the Cheese World: Daphne Zepos of Essex Street Cheese Company”

  1. Kirstin says:

    Anthea- I wanted to be her when I grew up too. Such a dynamic, kind person. Never had met anyone before with such charisma. Thanks for the beautiful words.

  2. […] was that so many others of you have written so eloquently about what Daphne meant to you. Emi, Anthea, Kirstin… and so many others. My relationship with Daphne was not as profound as the way she […]