Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In loving memory of Daphne

It has been forever and a day since I've updated this blog, and I have many tales to tell (which I promise will happen as well as more regular updates from here on in), but tonight I want to say add my small piece about the amazing, much loved and much missed, Daphne Zepos

As many of you may know, the cheese world lost an incredible person a few weeks back.  Daphne was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and passed only weeks later at the young age of 52.  So many of us who work in cheese were touched by her, and though I didn't know her nearly as intimately as so many others, I feel the need to share my encounters with this whirlwind of a Greek Wonder Woman.

I was introduced to Daphne in 2009, when she hosted a seminar at the Seattle Cheese Festival about the history of cheesemongering.  At the time, I was deep in the throes of research, and had heard that she was one of the most vibrant experts in the industry.  That in no way prepared me for the experience of listening to her share her deep knowledge on the subject, and I was a crazed fan of her five minutes into this session. I will never forget listening to her tell the story of how Camembert changed cheese forever once it was transported in those adorable little wooden boxes, then minutes later share how much she loved cheesemongers' tattoos.  I was completely enamored of her, and as I waited my turn to shake her hand and introduce myself after the seminar, I knew that this was a woman I needed to get as close to as possible.

The more I learned about the cheese scene and figured out the Who's Who of our industry, the more I realized how much of an influence Daphne had on all of us, whether we knew it or not.  Her teachings were just part of the immense bandwidth she had to help boost the booming cheese industry I was just becoming a part of. I attended another session of hers in 2010, again at Seattle Cheese Fest, about Transhumance.  Again I was blown away by the depth of knowledge this one person had to share; she made me look at some of my most beloved Alpine cheeses in a way that made me feel like I was tasting them for the first time all over again. After the seminar I rushed to greet her, this time with a business card in tow, hoping to lure her up the hill to my shop for a visit.  She was rushed (as she always was), and said "Yees yees, give me your card", and with that she was off in a flurry.  I was disappointed and felt like one of the many faces she may never recognize, but I still loved her and looked up to her with reverence akin to my childhood self adoring the Easter Bunny.

Just a few months later ACS was held in Seattle, and my baby of a cheese shop was on display for so many discerning eyes and opinions.  I was honored by visits from many fromager's who I'd looked up to for years, and while I soaked up every bit of praise and constructive criticism I received from each and every one of them, I knew that I had to get Daphne in the shop.  One afternoon I had the pleasure of spending some idle time chatting with Debra Dickerson of Cowgirl Creamery, another grande dame of the cheese world.  While we were talking, Daphne came speeding by, and this time I wasn't about to let her out of my path without making an impression.  I ran right up to her with a handshake and a card, and halfway through my introduction she looked me solidly in the eye and said "Yees, I know who you are!"  She grasped both my hands in hers and gave me one of her awesome smiles.  I blathered at her and Debra that they both needed to walk the few blocks from the hotel to visit my shop pretty pretty please and I'm so sorry but I have to get back to my staff.  Debra was exhausted but promised to try, Daphne smiled and nodded.

I rushed back to a very busy shop, telling my staff (who know of her well) that she probably wouldn't make it but I was so happy to have finally made an impression on her.  We were slammed for a bit, and I just as my heart started to sink a bit realizing that it'd been hours since I spoke with them, the rush cleared and there they were - Debra and Daphne, slightly out of breath but there, right at my counter. Debra came right up in her bubbly way to tell me how adorable the shop was, and I set to mongering her some of my local favorites.  Meanwhile Daphne stood a bit back, surveying the scene with a slight smile on her face, watching not me but my staff work their magic on our customers while I tended to Debra.  I was a bit worried that Daphne wasn't going to approach the counter at all, but after a few samples she joined Debra and I waxed poetic on the cheeses I loved so much from my large backyard that is the Pacific Northwest.  They enjoyed their samples, commented on how good the case looked and remarked on the adorable little wedges in our Hunka bowl.  I told Daphne, "That's how I teach them to wrap".  She gave me a beaming smile, and said "That is not all you teach them, your geerls are wonderful.  You have a bee-oootiful shop", to which I'm sure I turned bright red and thanked her greatly for. I offered to buy them a glass of wine at the bar next to me, but they were understandably beat and needed to get back to the hotel to unwind. I came around from the counter to hug Debra goodbye, and when I turned to Daphne she grasped both of my arms strongly, looked right into my eyes and told me congratulations for making such a lovely little shop.  "You will do very well, I can tell it."

So that was my experience of the great Daphne Zepos, but while my brief encounters with her were just that, the power she had to make me feel like I was doing something that extended far beyond a modest cheese counter is something I know many others have felt.  I am heartbroken that I didn't have more opportunities to spend time with her, but I am so grateful for those I did have.  She was a force to be reckoned with, and the legacy she leaves behind will live long and prosper in all of us who strive to do what we do in the name of cheese.

Here's to a hero, you were and will always be loved greatly.


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