Meet Rachel Juhl

Essex St. Cheese & Dapnhe Zepos Teaching Award

One of the most striking things about the American cheese industry at the moment, is the amount of youthful enthusiasm and passion in service to cheese. Merely a decade ago, it was hard to consider cheese more than a “fun” job. The career trajectory and opportunity were not nearly as robust and expansive as they are today.

Much of the success of this new crop of food artisans and purveyors rests on the successes and generosity of the pioneering leaders who came before.

One such pioneer was Daphne Zepos. a leader of the American cheese industry from its nascent days in the late 1990s through her death in 2012 at age 52. The legacy she left in the cheese world through her years acquiring and sharing her vast knowledge of cheese is legendary.

Her legacy lives on in the Daphne Zepos Teaching Award (DZTA), a foundation which she created in the final months of her life.

The DZTA foundation recently awarded its 4th Scholarship, celebrated a long-standing financial milestone and launched a very successful 5K run at ACS in Des Moines. Rachel Juhl, the daughter of Cheese Journeys founder, Anna Juhl, is the DZTA administrator and works hard behind the scenes coordinating the foundation’s efforts.

It’s safe to say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when discussing the cheese devotees of the Juhl family. “I started as a child of 12 in the cheese shop owned by my mom. I just did whatever my mom and sister asked me to do,” Rachel recalls.

Over the next decade, as she navigated her way in the world after college, food was woven in and out of her professional life; she always seemed to come back to cheese.

When her older sister began working with Essex St. Cheese, Rachel was asked to join the team in 2012 at a pivotal moment, just months before Daphne’s death. Her role: to focus on education and sharing the company’s line of exclusive European cheese.

With the common connection of Rachel’s role as a cheese educator and the educational focus of the DZTA, it was a natural fit for her to be the Administrator.

The teaching award is a $5000 annual scholarship presented to a member of the cheese community who uses the funds to travel and study a unique aspect of cheesemaking. They then bring back that knowledge and present these findings at the annual American Cheese Society conference.

“That was Daphne’s vision from the beginning. She always cared about education and considered sales a byproduct of education. We go out and support retailers with knowledge of the cheese so they, in turn, can share it with their customers.”

On the Scholarship and the Recipients

“In her final months, Daphne put together the vision of what the scholarship would be. One person every year selected for a scholarship to go to Europe. They write an application letter in the past tense, so it’s like a vision of where that trip took them and the industry in the future, and what impact it would have. That vision and experience would then have an impact for years to come as the winners present their journey at ACS. Hopefully that person would inspire others to undertake similar adventures.”

“We awarded the first scholarship to Jess Perry who studied transhumance in the Basque region of Spain and learned about the history of storytelling through cheese. Emily Shartin went to Europe to learn about affinage, a vibrant subject in the American cheese community. Last year, Tom Perry went to learn about heritage starter cultures and to learn about how America could begin to develop our own heritage starter cultures for cheese. This years’ recipient, Sam Frank, will travel in Europe and America, learning about heritage cow breeds to promote biodiversity. These are interesting and inspiring subjects that hopefully inspire others to go out and learn more.”

“One of the big jobs for me as an administrator is raising money. For the scholarship to be viable, in the sense that the interest would pay for the scholarship, we needed to raise $250,000. When we arrived at ACS 2016 in Des Moines, we were $10,000 away from that goal. A very successful first-ever ACS 5K race put us over the top and -- 4 years after we began -- the scholarship is fully funded.”

On the Future of the DZTA

“Daphne’s vision was that the DZTA would benefit ACS and the whole United States cheese community. In 10 years, we’ll have almost 15 winners which will be mind-blowing. If you’d asked me in 2012, getting one winner was a feat. by then, we’ll have this whole community of people who have contributed to this encyclopedia of information available.”

“There is this young industry of cheese professionals who have found a sense of community and education. There is now some sense of ownership in the job of a cheesemonger. It’s no longer just a “fun” job, it’s really a career option they take seriously. Scholarships like this and others through the ACEF foster this sort of community.”