On Tuesday July 3rd, the food community lost one of its finest; the world is a poorer place for the passing of Daphne Zepos, teacher, cheese monger, importer, writer, world traveler and extraordinary educator. Those who knew her will grieve her passing and will deeply miss her passionate, outspoken, love for traditional cheese and for life. Millions more who never met her, will unknowingly taste the difference Daphne made—cheese in this country is far better for the work that Daphne did over the last two decades. A revolutionary in both deed and spirit it's fitting that Daphne died one day after the anniversary of the French Revolution and one day before the anniversary of the American.
One of the most outspoken, insightful and dynamic advocates for the cause of traditional cheese here in the U.S. and around the world, Daphne Zepos was the daughter of a Greek diplomat, Daphne had a peripatetic childhood. The family lived in Athens, London, Geneva, and Brussels all before Daphne was 18. As a young adult Daphne studied Medieval History at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, and Architecture at the Architectural Association in London. In 1987 she moved to New York and studied at Peter Kump's New York Cooking School. In 1990, while traveling in Greece, she met the American artist, Brad Brown. The two were married in 1994 at the San Francisco City Hall. For the next 18 years they split their time evenly between New York and San Francisco. There were living in San Francisco's Mission District when Daphne passed away, quietly at home, surrounded by her family. The cause was cancer. She was 52 years old.
Daphne served as a board member of the American Cheese Society and did formative work for many years 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.
Over the last twenty years Daphne played a prominent role in nearly every major cheese event in the U.S. and Europe. She lectured, moderated, and presented at the American Cheese Society's Annual Conference. She taught at Slow Food's bi-annual Cheese in Bra, Italy, at the College of Marin, and at courses throughout the country, including the Cheese School of San Francisco, Neal's Yard Dairy in London and at Zingerman's in Ann Arbor. Over the years, she has taught literally thousands of students both professional and avocational, and in the process helped significantly improve the quality of cheese in the U.S. and the knowledge and understanding of cheese mongering in this country. In 2006, Daphne founded the Essex Street Cheese Company, which imports a small selection of hand-selected cheeses from Europe. Together with her business partner, Kiri Fisher, Zepos and her husband Brad purchased The Cheese School of San Francisco in 2011. It is the only independent institution of its kind in the U.S. dedicated to helping people maximize their enjoyment and appreciation of cheese through education and tasting events.
Most recently Daphne was the recipient of the 2012 American Cheese Society's Lifetime Achievement Award, for which she was, "recognized for a significant and lasting impact on the American cheese industry, and her demonstrated strength in building, supporting, and advancing the work of ACS and its members." The Cheese Society announcement noted that, "Zepos received numerous nomination letters for the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award. Ari Weinzweig, co-founder and CEO of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses in Ann Arbor noted that 'Daphne’s work to educate retailers, chefs, cheese mongers and cheese makers has contributed enormously to a huge improvement in the quality of the cheese on counters across the country. Her passion, the poetry of her cheese descriptions, her never-ending drive for better flavor, for teaching people what makes good cheese good, and for making already-good cheese even better is truly unrivaled.'"
Daphne is survived by her husband, the artist Brad Brown, as well as her parents and her sister, Amalia Zepou, and thousands of friends and fans in the world's cheese community. She will be greatly missed. Throughout her years, Daphne's fierce love for life and learning, traveling, teaching and tasting were all hallmarks of who she was. She fit no one else's box and she always made her own mold. Unique, unselfish, unrelenting, unequaled in her passion for life, her love for cheese, and the way she poetically shared those passions with those she loved and cared for. Without question, the world is a far, far better, more flavorful, more fun place for having had Daphne in it.
Written by Ari Weinzweig. Read more at the New York Times obituary.