At Barcelona's La Boqueria, EVOO Runs in the Family

Xelo Morilla says that even in Barcelona, high-quality olive oils are undervalued. “It is something we have so internalized since we were children," she said. Her shop, El Mas del Mercader, is trying to change that.

All photos by Pablo Esparza for Olive Oil Times
May. 2, 2017
By Pablo Esparza
All photos by Pablo Esparza for Olive Oil Times

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The heart of Barcelona beats within a maze of 300 stalls packed with fresh fish and veg­eta­bles, cheese and Iberian ham, wine and olive oil. This is the Boqueria mar­ket. For many, one of the best food mar­kets in the world.

Many local peo­ple think that they know all about olive oil just because they have always had it at home. But it has never been prop­erly val­ued.- Xelo Morilla, El Mas del Mercader

This iron build­ing opened its doors for the first time in 1853. Before that, an open air mar­ket and a Carmelite con­vent had been at the same place for centuries. 

Now, the Boqueria is one of the most vis­ited attrac­tions of the city. Over 25,000 peo­ple pass through its alleys every day. Tourists tak­ing pic­tures of the col­or­ful stands and locals buy­ing their daily gro­ceries mix with appar­ent easiness.






For Barcelonans, the Boqueria used to be the place where you could buy and find any­thing to eat that you could not find any­where else… You found it at the Boqueria. It’s always been that way and it still is”, said Xelo Morilla. 

We meet this olive oil mer­chant at El Mas del Mercader (the Merchant’s Country House), a shop spe­cial­ized in olive oil set at one of the stone arcades sur­round­ing the market.

Morilla and her broth­ers decided to open the shop in 2011. Later on, they started sell­ing some wines and offer­ing olive oil and wine tast­ings in the basement.

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For years, she told Olive Oil Times, find­ing a wide vari­ety of extra vir­gin olive oils at the Boqueria was, iron­i­cally, not so easy.

One of the rea­sons we decided to open an olive oil shop is we saw that there were shops of every­thing here, but not of oil. Of good olive oil, there was none,” she explained.
Of course, olive oil — a basic prod­uct in every Spanish kitchen — was sold at the market. 

It could be found at the olives merchant’s shop, maybe even at the butcher’s or at the cheesemonger’s. But there were no spe­cial­ized mer­chants as there were for other prod­ucts such as wine. 

Xelo Morilla

We are the last ones to value the good things we have. The coop­er­a­tives knew that their pro­duc­tion was sold locally and the sur­plus was sold to the Italians. So olive oil was not given its real value here,” Morilla said. 

It is some­thing we have so inter­nal­ized since we were chil­dren. It is seen as a first-need prod­uct so it has never been prop­erly val­ued. And learn­ing to appre­ci­ate it is a long process. Many local peo­ple think that they know all about olive oil just because they have always had it at home. But it is not like that,” she added. 

However, she argues, things are chang­ing in the last few years and good qual­ity olive oils are being increas­ingly demanded both by for­eign­ers and locals at the Boqueria. El Mas del Mercader’s selec­tion con­sists only of extra vir­gin olive oils from Spain. 

We try to make a selec­tion of those vari­eties that are char­ac­ter­is­tic of each area as every region in Spain has its own typ­i­cal vari­eties,” said Morilla, as she pointed to bot­tles of dif­fer­ent ori­gins cov­er­ing the wall shelves of the shop. 

All photos by Pablo Esparza for Olive Oil Times

She names the vari­eties they are made from: Arbequina, Empeltre, Farga, Hojiblanca. They come from Catalonia, Aragón, Valencia, Mallorca, Jaén, Córdoba…almost from every cor­ner in the country.

Morilla’s fam­ily has been linked to the mar­ket for decades. Xelo’s father and uncles owned stalls of dried fruits, species and wines at the Boqueria. 

Her mother’s fam­ily, on the other hand, has peas­ant ori­gins and cul­ti­vates fields of olive and almond trees in Lleida, West of Barcelona, and they pro­duce their own olive oil. The match seemed obvious. 

After a life liv­ing in the world of the olive oil, the olive trees fields, the peas­antry… this was the step that lacked. It was the ele­ment that closed the cir­cle, at least in my family’s case,” she said.

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