Let’s take a break for a minute to praise Daphne Zepos, who passed away yesterday at an age that is far too young to ponder.
I’d heard about Daphne long before I met her seven years ago, and everyone that spoke of her was a little bit in awe. Yet, when I did meet her, I was nearly disarmed by her enthusiasm, accessibility and wit. She seemed as excited to meet me, though to my thinking I was just a struggling writer with a gig at an interesting cheese shop and ambitions to teach cheese classes. But that was Daphne; she was always on the lookout for another good adventure and admired people who wanted to follow their passions. A trained chef, she was a co-founder of Artisanal. Then she started Essex, a company that brought the best Aged Gouda, the best Comte, and the best Reggiano to America. Her company is working on bring a Manchego here soon; anyone want to bet on its quality? She also bought the Cheese School of San Francisco and spread the gospel to lucky denizens of the Bay Area.
What I remember ever so fondly was seeing Daphne on the day after Joy of Cheese got its first big NY Times write up. She beamed and said something like “hello Mr. Cheese.” I shrugged it off, not because I didn’t appreciate the comment, but I didn’t know how to say what needed to be said: my little endeavor mattering to her meant waa-aaay more to me than some blurb in the Times. If Daphne thought it was good that was all the validation you needed.
No one in their right mind works in cheese to get rich, we all got here by following a passion; yet for most of us it does become work after a while. Even if it’s work we love, it’s still work. For Daphne, it was always a passion, an enlivening, spirit uplifting thrill. She wasn’t lucky; instead she’d figured out how to make work a passion while most of us stop at the reverse.