He calls her Francesca and talks of her many charms. But Ibrahim "Ibo" Selmy, the owner of Cornucopia, a Bethesda salumeria and espresso bar, is not talking about a woman or a car but of what might well be the Maserati of prosciutto slicers. All shiny cast iron and aluminum with a coat of glossy red paint, Francesca occupies a prime spot in the front window. Made in Verona, the Volano manual flywheel slicer turns out tissue-thin slices of Parma prosciutto and other meats sold at the salumeria. It also can be adjusted to yield slices of varying thicknesses.
Though expensive–a manual machine like Selmy's costs about $5,000–it's the slicer of choice for prosciutto purists. Mario Batali of Babbo fame in New York has one. Electric slicers, more common in the United States, heat the surface of the ham as they slice, altering both texture and taste. With a manual machine there's less heat, and the surface of the prosciutto remains a bit rough, which adds to its flavor.
Cornucopia is known for its high-quality meats and cheeses, fresh-baked biscotti and made-to-order cannolis, sfogliatelle (a ricotta pie with a crisp shell and bits of citron), and hard-to-find Italian foodstuffs like anchovy-wrapped olives. Italian mothers like to bring their children in for cornetti, a croissant-like pastry found all over Italy, and locals stop by for an espresso and Italian cold-cut sandwiches like mortadella and salami, Italian-style corned and roast beef, and prosciutto.
Selmy expanded after opening last year and now has several tables. Next up: delectable lamb prosciutto and a glass freezer from Italy that Selmy plans to fill with trays of lasagna and a dozen kinds of ravioli. By summer look for an authentic Italian gelato machine.
Cornucopia: 8102 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda; 301-652-1625.
Open Monday through Saturday from 9 AM to 8 PM and Sunday from 10 to 6.