For the past two weeks, the cheese world has been grieving. You may not see it from the outside, but on the inside – behind cheese counters everywhere – there are invisible violins playing Greek rhapsodies. They play for Daphne Zepos, a cheese doyenne who died of cancer on July 3, 2012. Two years ago, I happened to be at a tiny birthday bash for her at Di Bruno Bros. on 9th Street, where I snapped this picture.
Isn’t she lovely? Daphne was like a polar explorer of the dairy world. She was famous for discovering – and then importing to the U.S. – particularly beautiful artisan cheeses from Europe, which she distributed through her company, Essex St. Cheese in Brooklyn. She also ran a cheese school in San Francisco and co-founded an organization that advocated for raw-milk cheesemakers around the U.S., the Cheese of Choice Coalition. Daphne’s obituary in the New York Times credits her with vaulting artisanal cheese into the public eye.
Around Di Bruno Bros., Daphne was a beloved educator who stopped in regularly to provide continuing education. She also led staff members on tours to meet cheesemakers in remote villages around Europe. Cheesemonger Hunter Fike wrote lovingly of these trips on this blog – check out his posts on Marcel Petit Comté and Wilde Weide Gouda.
Here are a few other Di Bruno memories:
Ezekial Ferguson, Assistant Manager of Di Bruno Bros. 9th Street: Daphne was at once the most serious and knowledgeable yet funny and humble expert you ever met. Although I really only met her but a handful of times she would give you the biggest smile and hug like we had grown up together. Like everyone, I think, I wish I got to soak up more of her knowledge and passion than I did.
Emilio Mignucci, Vice President of Di Bruno Bros.: Daphne had such a way of drawing our young associates in, of making them want to learn more about cheesemakers and how they go about creating wonderful gems. The whole industry – from cheesemaking to shipping to retailing – is better off because of her. She brought together the Who’s Who in cheese for the common purpose of educating all about our passion, CHEESE. She will be missed.
If you want a sense of taste of Daphne’s passion, stop into Di Bruno Bros. for a bite of Marcel Petit Comte, one of her favorite cheeses. For a sense of her spirit, check out her columns for The Atlantic.
For more glimpses into the cheese world, please visit Madame Fromage.