ACCORDING to legend, the Arbroath smokie was created in the 16th century, when fishermen, sifting through the remains of a burned-down cottage, stumbled across a haddock which had been smoked in the dying embers.
The story is almost certainly apocryphal and it is widely believed that the tradition of smoking fish was first imported into Scotland by Viking raiders who ultimately settled on Scotland’s east coast.
What is beyond dispute, however, is that the Arbroath smokie actually originated in the fishing village of Auchmithie, two miles north of the town, and that the secrets of smokie production arrived when the fishermen of Auchmithie moved to the town in the 19th century.
Ever since then the tradition of smoking pairs of haddock, suspended over burning oak and beech chips in whisky barrels, has continued in a number of back street smokeries in the "fit o’ the toon", the maze of streets close to the town’s harbour.
But yesterday the Arbroath smokie, granted special protection status by the European Commission earlier this month, became a true product of 21st-century technology when the first batch, produced in an ultra-modern factory, rolled off the production line at RR Spink and Sons, the town’s largest fish processors.
The official opening of the new 100,000 smokehouse by Allan Wilson, Scotland’s deputy fishing minister, marked the resumption of large-scale smokie production in the town for the first time in two years and the first smokies to be produced in a modern factory.
The special kiln and production facilities at the factory were deigned by Bob Spink who was managing director of the family company until its takeover by Scot Trout Ltd four years ago.
Mr Spink, an Arbroath councillor and director of the new company, spearheaded the successful campaign which resulted in Arbroath smokies joining some of Europe’s finest foods in securing special European protection through Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status.
Mr Spink said: "I never lost faith in the smokie and I always knew that we would resume production on a large scale.
"People still want quality and tradition. They don’t want homogenised and clinical food. And what I have done is to design the kilns which can enable us to bring the smokie to a mass market while still maintaining the traditional way of doing things."
Muir Hunter, the managing director of Scot Trout, explained: "We always said that, when the time was right, we would begin production again and PGI status has given us the springboard.
"We are hoping that the turnover in smokies in the first year will reach 250,000, increasing to 500,000 eventually. We have started selling to Sainsbury’s this week and will be looking to other major supermarkets in the near future."
Each of the new smokies produced at the factory will carry a special label, extolling the virtues of the delicacy. Mr Hunter admitted: "The problem with the Arbroath smokie is that, although they taste wonderful, they are pretty consumer unfriendly. They look awful.
"But with the labelling we are trying to educate the consumer about what they are, what to do with them, and even how to debone them.
"PGI branding has made the Arbroath smokie a luxury product. Along with champagne and Parma ham, we are now in the premier league of foods."
The fisheries minister was the first to sample a smokie off the new production line. "I last tasted a smokie many years ago, but this has certainly rekindled my interest," he said.