This past Tuesday, July 3rd, an important member of the cheese community passed away. Daphne Zepos was founder of the Essex Street Cheese Company and, closer to home, co-owner of The Cheese School of San Francisco. More than that, she was a cheese enthusiast, advocate, and educator. She was a teacher, a writer, an importer, a cheesemonger, and – from what I’ve heard – a wonderful and passionate friend. There’s no way I could write anything about her that would add to what has already been said.
Daphne died at home, in my neighborhood of The Mission, at the age of 52. Lung cancer. I only met her once, maybe 5 months ago, at a Cheese School master class. I stood, talking to two other attendees, when she approached to welcome us and, specifically, to congratulate me on my upcoming internship. A fleeting, but genuine, interaction. Later, she introduced the instructor, Cowgirl Creamery’s Peggy Smith, and simply glowed as she spoke about her friend. That was it. I can remember her face, a little bit of her voice, her hair pulled back. That’s it.
On Tuesday, when I read the Cheese School’s facebook announcement (accompanied by a beautiful photo of Daphne & co-owner Kiri Fisher), it hit me like a hard blow to the chest. I had to catch my breath, steady myself. I felt dizzy. I couldn’t explain why. I hardly knew this woman, beyond what I had read and heard of her. And still, I felt the loss. The loss of Daphne’s family, the loss of The Cheese School, the loss of the community. I felt sadness, and anger, and regret. Regret that this great teacher, this potential mentor, was gone so soon. And then I realized – that’s a familiar feeling.
2 months ago, Mike’s father Mark died of esophageal cancer. He was 58. I knew him for a year and a half, let’s say. Time spent knowing someone is certainly hard to calculate. He was in my life briefly when he was well, longer when he was sick, and then…he was just gone. It’s awful, and a cheese blog is not really the right place to get into it. But, more than I’m capable of missing him, I regret not getting to know him. I’m sad and I’m angry for many reasons, but mostly because I won’t get that chance. In losing a person you barely know, you find yourself grasping at memories. The best jokes that person made, your brief conversations. What their hand felt like in yours, the first time you shared a knowing smile. That’s what I did Tuesday, too, replaying and replaying Daphne’s welcome in my head. Remembering the feel of the hand she placed on my shoulder, attempting to recall her height, her smell. Holding on to the slip of a relationship, no matter how small.
Now, I love when Mike shares a story about his dad. He’ll mention how he would have said or done something, he’ll teach me something Mark taught him, and I listen more attentively than I’ve ever listened before. That, after all, is the legacy he leaves. And in that same way, I’ll devour what I can from those who knew Daphne. I won’t learn directly from her, but from those whom she taught. I’ll make my place in a community she did so much to support and enrich, in the same way I now make a place for myself in Mike’s family. Mark carries on in Mike, in this incredibly special person he helped form, and I get to know him that way. I’ll do the same with Daphne, through The Cheese School, the ACS, and her friends and colleagues. I only wish I had more of an opportunity, to thank them both, for enriching my life in such profound ways.