Cullen may have its skink and Arbroath its smokies but it's often the case that the rich food traditions of the smaller towns and villages of rural Scotland are overlooked, but I know a feisty market town in Aberdeenshire that is quietly determined to change that.

On first impressions it would be easy to assume – wrongly, as it turns out – that Huntly, along with other towns such as Keith, Turriff and Alford, no longer has much to say for itself in terms of distinctive recipes and ingredients, far less indigenous butchers and producers. After all, its pubs and hotel bars, centred round the town square, offer the usual small-town fare of chicken curries and cheeseburgers with chips. So, on a recent visit, it initially seemed the town's culinary identity, if it had one, had been lost in the pull of larger restaurant chains towards prosperous and ever-expanding Aberdeen and Inverurie, and by the expansion of supermarkets and online retailers.

There was once a bespoke potato shop, fishmonger and greengrocer in Huntly, but as shopkeepers have retired they've closed their doors because the younger generation haven't been interested in following their lead. The last remaining sweet shop closed recently (though Dean's shortbread bakery is thriving as a producer and an employer).

This seems a pity, since the town is surrounded by fertile agricultural land and fields of barley, and has a busy livestock mart. However, I was intrigued to see that the Huntly Hotel – along with several other venues – offers a local menu alongside the more predictable fare. Here was classic Huntly tattie soup (made with locally-grown veg and short rib or plate beef); Deveron cure trout and mayonnaise made with rapeseed oil; Highland kedgeree (using Moray-smoked haddock, free-range eggs and Fairtrade rice); and Gordon barley risotto with Moray langoustine, mushrooms or rabbit, dotted with Douglas Fir pine oil. There was Clashmach venison carpaccio, Huntly mess and fruit crumble, using crushed Dean's shortbread pudding. What on earth was going on?

It turns out that Huntly, which has a population of only 4000, has recently launched its own signature menu, which I reckon is a first for Scotland. Do tell me if I'm wrong.

The menu came about after Claudia Zeiske of Deveron Arts, tasked by Huntly Development Trust to develop a new image for the town that would reflect its identity and freedom of spirit, invited food consultant Simon Preston to take up a three-month residency last year.

In a bid to discover what set Huntly apart from its neighbours, he had a driftwood dining table built and asked people young and old, including farmers and chefs, to sit round the table in various venues to discuss food traditions and cultures, forgotten recipes and what they would like to eat for their last meal on earth. The Huntly signature menu is the result.

The menu has been adopted permanently by several cafes, bistros and hotel restaurants, each of which does its own interpretation of Preston's dishes – he didn't want to dole out fixed recipes or create a recipe book because he wanted the dishes to be based on the oral tradition and therefore be ever-changing. Plans are in place to help schools adopt the menu, and for the supermarkets to stock local produce. The Larder deli already stocks the Gordon barley.

Preston, who launched the Harvey Nichols restaurant and food market in Edinburgh and runs a food festival in Newcastle and Gateshead, points to the disconnect between people and their local produce and culinary heritage. Food, he says, has the power to help people "identify with their past as well as their future, and build a lasting self-confidence".

The Huntly Hotel's young head chef, Keira Allan, tells me she has relished the opportunity of taking traditional dishes and giving them a contemporary twist, and learning about her culinary heritage.

Not only that, but she also has the unfamiliar freedom of sourcing her ingredients from producers and butchers in the town. She plans to keep the signature menu as a permanent special menu to attract visitors to the town – as well as residents.

They might baulk at paying a little more than they would for bought-in burgers and ready meals, but at around a tenner for a main course, it's surely a price worth paying if it helps give the town back its identity.

It's a no-brainer to me, and I wonder why other towns and villages haven't done something similar. As host to the Royal National Mod in October, could Paisley come up with its own signature menu, and what would it be? Or other Renfrewshire towns and villages such as Houston, Bridge of Weir, Kilbirnie, Kilmacolm, even Linwood? Could there be such a forgotten dish as a New Cumnock casserole, Cumbernauld ceviche or Troon truffles?

Let me know what you think. And no deep-fried Mars bars, please.

Twitter: @catedvinewriter