Daphne Zepos was the big cheese.  At Oldways Conferences in Crete, Chios and Lesbos, she brought the cheeses of Greece to life. Daphne, along with Oldways, The American Cheese Society, Debra Dickerson, Ihsan Gurdal, and Ari Weinzweig founded the Cheese of Choice Coalition in 2000.  Her passion for life and her work were apparent to everyone who knew her; very sadly, Daphne lost her short battle against cancer last week.  With her passing, she also left a big hole in many hearts.  As Ari wrote so eloquently in a letter to friends and family (which we share below), Daphne made a difference for everyone who loves good food and especially good cheese.

By Ari Weinzweig

On Tuesday July 3rd, the food community lost one of its finest, Daphne Zepos, founder of Essex Street Cheese Company and co-owner of The Cheese School of San Francisco. For the past two decades, Daphne Zepos became known 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. The daughter of a Greek diplomat, Daphne grew up living in Athens, London, Geneva, and Brussels. As a young adult, she 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 enrolled in 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 between New York and San Francisco.  They 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 is survived by her husband, the artist Brad Brown, as well as her parents, Costa and Greta Zepos, her sister, Amalia Zepou, and thousands of friends and fans in the world’s cheese community. Those who knew Daphne will deeply miss her passionate and outspoken love for traditional cheese and for life. Millions more who never met her will unknowingly taste the difference Daphne made. A revolutionary in both deed and spirit, it’s fitting that Daphne was born one day before the anniversary of the French Revolution and died one day before the anniversary of the American.

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 ch

eeses. 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 Conference 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 Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor. She has taught thousands of professional and avocational students, and, in the process, helped significantly improve the quality of cheese and the state 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. In 2011, together with her business partner, Kiri Fisher, Zepos and her husband Brad Brown purchased The Cheese School of San Francisco. It is the only independent institution of its kind in the U.S., dedicated to helping people enjoy and appreciate 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.” 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’s fierce love for life and learning, traveling, teaching and tasting were all hallmarks of who she was. She had an intense curiosity and knowledge of art, music, nature, history and languages all of which found their way into her beautiful descriptions of flavor profiles, affinage procedures, and tasting notes. Unique, unselfish, unrelenting, unequalled in her passion for life, she will be remembered for her love for cheese and for the way she poetically shared her passions. She fit no one else’s box and she always made her own mold. Without question, the world is a far, far better, more flavorful, more fun place for having had Daphne in it. She will be missed.



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