They're the gift that keeps on giving -- every month, to be precise. Gift-of-the-month clubs deliver to your recipient a fresh batch of specialty foods, flowers or other indulgent items month after month, keeping that Christmas spirit going long after Dec. 25 has passed.
The latest wave of gift-of-the-month clubs has introduced fascinating new twists on the monthly gift-package arrival -- such as Jerky of the Month, Organic Tea of the Month, even Rubber Duck of the Month. The classics still exist, such as fruits of the month and beers of the month. They've just expanded into creative new flavors and choices.
Here are some of the leading gift-of-the-month trends for your shopping list this year:
--Cheese of the Month (Amazing Clubs, www.amazingclubs.com): With these monthly deliveries, which you can get in three-, six- or 12-month plans, the gourmet chef on your list receives fresh, cooler-packed deliveries of creamy Camembert, Brie, Cheddar or other regional cheeses to serve as-is or incorporate into his or her favorite recipes.
--Harry & David has many fruit-of-the-month clubs, and it now offers one with organic fruit. It's a touch more expensive, but the fruits are certified in accordance with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program. If you have a natural-living fan on your gift list, give the gift of organic citruses, pears, plums, peaches, apples and more. The package starting in December -- which you can choose as a three-, six-, nine- or 12-month plan -- starts with Royal Riviera pears, clementines, oranges and grapefruit, moving into spring, summer and fall fruits.
--Cheesecake of the Month (Amazing Clubs) delivers monthly packages of mini cheesecakes in chocolate, classic and other gourmet flavors, ready for serving to company during the winter and spring months.
--Jerky of the Month (Amazing Clubs): This club has enjoyed a slew of publicity lately, with its tailgate party-pleasing tastes in December and January, including such flavors as teriyaki, honey barbecue, Cajun, cherry maple and, for the adventurous jerky lover, elk and venison.
--Barbecue Sauce of the Month Club (Flying Noodle, www.flyingnoodle.com): It may not be summer, but the tangy taste of barbecue sauce means that ribs prepared in the slow cooker, mini party meatballs, roasts and other dishes get a basting of various flavors of barbecue sauce, from sweet and mild to red-hot tear-makers.
--Salsa of the Month (Amazing Clubs): The club acquires unique salsas from "small boutique salsa makers all over the world," departing from the usual store-bought salsas your recipient is used to and bringing the heat from around the world.
--Olive Oil of the Month Club (Flying Noodle): Extra-virgin olive oil is a chef's staple, and imbuing flavor to olive oils is a top new trend for foodie fanatics. So have fresh bottles of rosemary, lemon, jalapeno and other olive oil blends delivered each month.
--Tea of the Month Club (Flying Noodle): Organic teas in fruity blends, or herbal concoctions, green or oolong, white- or black-leaf varieties, allow your recipient to enjoy tea time any time of the year. As a twist on the Coffee of the Month plan -- or part of a combination flavor-of-the-month package that you've designed to deliver both tea and coffee -- these warm drinks bring comfort and relaxation during the winter months.
--Beer of the Month Club (Flying Noodle): You'll see many different beer-of-the-month companies out there, each offering microbrew beers from all over the country or the world, giving your recipient a fresh sip of a creative flavor, hearty lager or smooth summer ale.
--Wine of the Month (Amazing Clubs): This club delivers your recipient at least one bottle each month, from different regions and in different bouquets.
It's not just food and drink that can be delivered each month, however. The classics still remain:
--Flower of the Month (ProFlowers and other websites): This type of club often gives you the choice of flowers or plants per month, bulbs per month or a dozen colorful roses each month. Expect prices in the $100 to $200 range for this valuable monthly gift, and one perk of many different flower-of-the-month clubs is that you get to select the vases in which your deliveries will arrive. At the end of three months of deliveries, your recipient still owns three gorgeous new vases.
--Rubber Duck of the Month Club (www.RubberDuckWorld.com): Choose from the classic yellow rubber duckie variety or ones with themes, such as celebrities, sports and holidays.
Many different types of monthly gift companies exist on the Internet now, but you have to be extremely cautious about shopping from a reputable one.
Watch out for the fine print. Scam-reporting websites are filled with complaints about book-of-the-month clubs that people can't cancel, and ones that keep sending packages and invoices, ignore cancellation notices, sue for collections and damage credit ratings. Always choose a reputable company that ranks well with the Better Business Bureau; ones that friends and family members have used and would recommend; and ones that provide a street address on their website, as well as a Secure Transaction icon. Always be a smart consumer, especially when shopping online for any type of gift.