Daphne Zepos — an internationally known authority on cheese whose expertise encompassed the buying of it, the selling of it, the making of it, and above all the almost transcendental experience of eating it — died Tuesday at her home in San Francisco.
The cause was lung cancer, said her husband, Brad Brown.
A writer, teacher, consultant, importer, chef, and cheese-competition judge, Ms. Zepos, 52, was, as The New York Times wrote in 2005, ‘‘one of the most respected voices in the field of American cheese.’’ (In this accolade, ‘‘American cheese’’ does not denote American cheese.)
From 2002 to 2005, Ms. Zepos was associated with the Artisanal Cheese Center, the restaurateur Terrance Brennan’s vast Manhattan complex at which cheese is aged before being shipped to consumers, shops, and restaurants.
In 2006, she helped found the Essex Street Cheese Co. Based in New York, the company imports and sells a number of artisanal cheeses from Europe. Chief among them is Comte, a French cousin of Gruyere that, as Ms. Zepos rapturously told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2006, unleashes ‘‘a tsunami wave of cream’’ in the mouth ‘‘and leaves that incredible aftertaste of cream and butter on the tongue.’’
Last year, Ms. Zepos became an owner of the Cheese School of San Francisco, the country’s only independent institution of learning devoted to cheese.
Her work, as well as her writings on cheese for The Atlantic magazine’s website and elsewhere, helped prompt the current interest in artisanal cheese among US consumers.
‘‘Today, thanks in part to Daphne’s leadership and teaching and training, a far bigger slice of the American populace understands what artisan cheese is, and can be,’’ Ari Weinzweig, a founder and chief executive of Zingerman’s, the gourmet food concern in Ann Arbor, Mich., said Thursday.
Ms. Zepos was as much anthropologist as ambassador, for her travels in pursuit of fine cheese took her to the farms and pastures of small producers throughout Europe and the United States. The best of their handiwork, she often said, was imbued with the taste of mountain and meadow and with the life histories of the cheese makers themselves, or so it seemed.
In perhaps her most important role, Ms. Zepos was a gerontologist of cheese. More precisely, she was an affineur, who oversees the aging of cheese to its exquisite, carefully calibrated pinnacle. The profession, which combines the skills of artist, chemist, and nursemaid, is one to which only a few dozen people in the United States can lay claim.
It was this job that Ms. Zepos held at Artisanal, presiding over the center’s five caves, large walk-in refrigerators with rigorously controlled temperature and humidity.
Daphne Zepos was born in Athens. Her father was a Greek diplomat, and she was reared in Athens, London, Geneva, and Brussels. She studied medieval history at the University of Kent in England and architecture at the Architectural Association, a professional school in London.
In 1987, her father became the Greek ambassador to the United Nations, and Ms. Zepos moved with her family to the United States. She studied at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School (now the Institute of Culinary Education) and later worked at the Campton Place Hotel in San Francisco, where her duties included assembling its trolley of artisanal cheeses and wheeling it through the dining room.
Her first marriage ended in divorce; she married Brown, an artist, in 1994. She leaves him, along with her parents and a sister.