Sahar Basheer and her husband Quadri Mahmoud moved to New Zealand in 1994 and established Taiba Cheese in 2016.
They started commercial sales using cow’s milk in 2021.
Sahar is a microbiologist and Quadri is an electronic engineer (who used to work for a medical equipment firm in Kuwait) with an MBA from Massey University, all very handy when working out how to make distinctive cheeses. They’ve been thinking of making cheeses since their arrival when they compared the green paddocks of Aotearoa with the sands of Kuwait where they were born.
Sahar looks after research and development, and worked on their range for over a decade before launch. Quadri focused on designing, building and setting up their factory as an annex to their home in West Auckland in 2017. They make superb halloumi – they spent a lot of time perfecting the flavours and textures of this Cypriot cheese they grew up with – but they also make cheeses rarely found in Aotearoa. Akkawi and Knafeh Cheese are both white brine cheeses originating from Palestine, but with distinctly different textures and other properties like stretchiness.
Their Akkawi is tangy and salty, and can melt and stretch for use in pastries, and they make Knafeh Cheese using their own proprietary recipe – you won’t find another cheese quite like this anywhere.
Knafeh Cheese is a modification of the original Akkawi to make it extra stretchable, designed for the perfect Middle-Eastern dessert called “Knafeh” that has cheese as its base, and can be used as an alternative to mozzarella, but with the rich flavour of a white brined cheese.
Sahar and Quadri are determinedly artisan, and will not adopt mass production techniques despite their plan to popularise a wider range of Middle Eastern cheeses around New Zealand. They mostly sell through farmers markets but are growing a distribution network to allow more people to enjoy their great products. Carrying on the family vibe, their daughter Shahd Mahmoud also works in the business, ensuring its future for another generation.