Daphne Zepos Farewell
Culture founder Kate Arding bids farewell to her good friend and fellow cheese aficionado Daphne Zepos who passed away earlier this week after battling cancer for several months. Daphne will be sorely missed by the cheese community, and we send our best wishes to her friends and family:
It is with the most profound and deepest sense of loss, both for our industry and on a personal level, that I note the passing of Daphne Zepos.
Daphne’s genuine passion, warmth and enthusiasm for educating cheese professionals and consumers contributed immeasurably to the quality and appreciation for cheese that now exists throughout the United States.
A native of Greece, Daphne spent much of her early years in Paris where her father, Costas, acted as the Greek delegate to the United Nations. Consequently, Daphne was fluent in French and had a deep appreciation for European food and its traditions - a knowledge that later proved formative in her cheese career.
Daphne and I first met back in 1994 when I was working at Neal's Yard Dairy in London. Like me, she was just embarking on her cheese career and her interest and energy for learning was boundless. As our friendship and professional relationship grew, Daphne was instrumental in supporting my life-changing decision to move from London to California to help Sue Conley and Peggy Smith create Cowgirl Creamery. This encouragement took many forms–including trips up and down the San Francisco hills on the back of her tiny Vespa in order to meet with her immigration lawyer, explanations of the nuances of American life, and stalwart friendship during wobbly moments of my transition.
At the time, she had recently moved to San Francisco and was one of a handful of people actively working to promote cheese within the restaurant scene. By day Daphne worked as a line cook at Campton Place, also developing their first cheese program. In the evening, after performing a Wonder Woman-like transformation and donning a pair of heels, she took command of the restaurant cheese cart, clearly taking delight in serving and introducing diners to the array of carefully chosen offerings.
Daphne's unbridled desire to learn about cheese and the people behind it was balanced by her generosity of spirit and wish to introduce and educate others about it. Her many presentations, written work and regular column in The Atlantic have informed and inspired thousands of people.
After working for a time with Artisanal Premium Cheese in New York, Daphne joined forces with Jason Hinds to create the import company Essex Street Cheese. With this business, she contributed in a very pragmatic way to educating cheesemongers and buyers, making them aware of the importance of careful selection and teaching them to distinguish the flavor profiles of cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Comte and Gouda.
Daphne also worked tirelessly as a volunteer for the American Cheese Society. She served as a Board Member, Chair of the Competition and Judging Committee and Conference Planning Committee, as well as co-founder of the Cheese of Choice Coalition that was formed to advocate for the preservation of raw milk cheeses. Fittingly, in June of this year, ACS awarded her the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award.
Over the years, I had the privilege of traveling with Daphne on numerous occasions, visiting cheesemakers both domestically and overseas. These trips were hugely formative, as together we discovered the emerging world of American cheese and navigated the old world of traditional cheeses. In each instance, Daphne’s profound respect for the producers was evident - as was her feisty sense of fun and adventure.
Nearly a year ago, she came bounding up to me with her irresistible exuberance, wearing one of her signature gorgeous scarves, to tell me that she and her business partner Kiri Fisher had just acquired the Cheese School of San Francisco. I was beyond delighted - both for her and for the industry. It was a perfect fit and the ideal platform for her many talents. Daphne had really found her niche. All of which makes the sudden news of her battle with cancer and subsequent passing even harder to comprehend. The sense of loss is enormous.
Nonetheless, her legacy is lasting and remarkable. Daphne inspired people around the world and throughout the cheese industry; she leaves our close, hardworking community in much better stead than when she arrived. May we all continue building upon the work that Daphne started. It’s what she would have wanted.
Our thoughts and sincerest condolences are with her husband Brad, her parents Greta and Costas and her sister Amalia.
At Daphne's request, donations to support education for cheese professionals may be made in Daphne’s memory through the American Cheese Education Foundation, online or by mail to: ACE Foundation c/o American Cheese Society, 2696 S. Colorado Blvd., Suite 570, Denver, CO 80222, or by calling 720-328-2788x300.