1. Cookie of the Month Subscription
The Cravory's chef Derek Jaeger comes up with six new cookies every month and club members then get two of each. The flavors tend toward whimsical, if such a word can be applied to a cookie. In December members got cinnamon roll cookies, caramel eggnog cookies, and even circus animal cookies, which are ginger cookies with tiny pink circus animal cookies on top.
2. Fancy Tea Subscription
Roy Fong, a native of Hong Kong (and an ordained Taoist priest), opened America's first traditional teahouse in San Francisco 20 years ago. The company's online retail store now offers this club, which sends out a selection of tea every three months: yellow tea in winter, for example, and white tea for summer. Fong has spent years cultivating relationships with growers in China and Taiwan, so expect unusual varieties like green peony (which "blossoms" while steeping) or one called "sword of the emperor," which really does resemble miniature swords.
Imperial Tea Court's Four Seasons Tea Club
$121 for four shipments of tea (includes shipping)
3. Bacon of the Month Club
What started out as a small Ann Arbor deli now offers over a dozen monthly subscriptions, including the unrivaled bacon club, which gets you 12 to 16 ounces of bacon every four weeks. "Bacon has become a fad," said the Zingerman's head of product selection and mail order, Brad Hedeman. "There are even bacon dryer sheets. But we're not into the fad of bacon." Instead, monthly shipments focus on cured meet from fourth- or fifth-generation farms. "It's not highfalutin and you don't need crazy terms to describe it," said Hedeman. "It's just delicious."
4. Southern Food of the Month Club
Start the year with a 2-pound bag of stoneground grits and cornmeal from an 18th-century mill in North Carolina and end it with a boil-your-own-peanuts kit. In between, your monthly shipments are liable to include anything from barbecue sauce to hot pepper jelly to pickled okra to artichoke relish. "It's a total mystery gift," says Matt Lee, one of the two brothers who started this Charleston-based business in 1994. "You'll forget about it and then pop! Here comes a box of moon pies.
The Lee Bros. Southern Food of the Month Club
$330 for 12 months to recipient east of the Mississippi, $355 for west of the Mississippi (includes shipping)
5. Whiskey of the Month Club
"We don't have to go to some sunken ship to get these bourbons," says owner Mack McConnell. "But we try to send out bottles that are difficult to find." Past selections have included Hillrock Solera Aged Bourbon, High West American Prairie Reserve, and a twofer from Hudson Whiskey (the distillery's Baby Bourbon and its Four Grain). Every bottle comes with information about its distilling process and tasting notes — to the discerning nose, for example, Hudson's Four Grain apparently contains hints of banana.
6. Pickles Every Month Subscription Service
The team behind Mouth, a purveyor of "indie food" subscriptions, hunts down the best small-batch pickles out there. A typical shipment contains four jars of pickles along with a tote and a copy of Edible magazine. This month members got pickled ginger carrots, spicy pickles, and sliced pickles in a brine made from Dogfish ale.
7. Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club
Every month members get two large bottles of handcrafted, artisanal beer from breweries all around the world. Many of the featured beers are brewed with wild yeasts like brettanomyces, which I have never even heard of before, and some are brewed especially for members. The shipment can also be customized — every month members get an email announcing the club's offerings and can switch around their bottles or even skip the month entirely if they don't see anything they want.
The Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club
$46.95 per month (includes shipping)
8. Chocolate of the Month Club
Members get four chocolate bars a month from the best bean-to-bar, small-trade chocolate makers out there. Past offerings have included decadent, hand-scooped bars with soft ganache centers from Zotter, an Austrian producer, and Antidote's lavender and red salt raw chocolate.
9. Pie of the Month Club
Each installment contains two seasonally inspired fruit pies, one with a crumble top and the other with a more traditional design like a lattice or a cut-out star. They're baked in tempered glass Kerr jars and sent out the same day — you'll receive them no more than two days after they come out of the oven.
10. Personalized Wine Subscription Service
This is the only wine club out there that lets your preferences determine what you receive. Once you sign up you're sent six miniature bottles of wine, and you log in to the site and are guided through an interactive tasting. A month later you're sent six bottles (for $60) and from then on, you get 12 bottles every three months. The wines come from all around the world and are chosen by a group of tasters whose rejection rate is about 90%.
Lot 18 Tasting Room Wine Club
$149 for 12 bottles every three months (includes shipping)
11. Artisanal Cheese Subscription
Eight years ago, Pastoral, a Chicago specialty food shop that's been touted everywhere from the Today show to O, the Oprah Magazine (its "fromage a trois" gift basket is an Oprah favorite) launched the Artfully American cheese club. Members get two cheeses a month (about 1 pound in total) and the focus is on interesting or offbeat cheeses from smaller family farms — like Prairie Fruits Farm, the first artisanal goat dairy farm in the state of Illinois. The shop's founder, Greg O'Neill, is actually the president of the American Cheese Society, which means that when it comes to selecting cheeses to highlight, it has "a deep bench," as O'Neill puts it, to choose from.
Pastoral Cheese Club
12. Freshly Roasted Coffee Bean Subscription
The ever-changing selection from this club is chosen by a group of coffee obsessives who taste about 60 beans each cycle, taking notes that have the epicurean exactness of wine-tasting language (ruby red grapefruit, say, instead of pink grapefruit, hints of peanut brittles, notes of cherry, etc.). Members receive 4 ounces of three different kinds of coffee that's always less than 10 days from being roasted and tends to be so far beyond fair trade it's direct trade — roasted by guys who personally travel to buy the beans and have a relationship with the farmers who grow them.
13. Handmade Jam of the Month Club
These are no ordinary jams — think French plums with bay leaves, orange and dark chocolate with cardamom, or peach with lavender. They're all handmade from fruit grown on small family farms in Southern California (that's where the jam maker, Amy Deaver, lives). Every other month you get two jams (so two 6-ounce jams the first month and two again the third).
14. Macaron of the Month Club
This New York bakery sends out boxes of 12 macarons in a variety of unusual flavors, like s'mores, oatmeal raisin and champagne. They're gluten-free and kosher and they arrive in pristine packaging that reflects the design-oriented photo editor owner Dana Loia used to be (at Muscle & Fitness magazine, no less) before she went to culinary school and opened this bakery selling "macs," as she calls them, in 2012.
Dana's Bakery Macaron of the Month Club
$90 for three months (shipping varies between about $10 and $15)
15. Cocktail/Spirits Subscription Service
Over the course of a year, this club sets you up with a complete home bar. Each month you get all the ingredients to make five different cocktails — and all full-size bottles. Members aren't getting run-of-the-mill grocery store name brands, either. Whiskey is the foundational spirit of the first month, and most recently the bourbon Bitters + Booze sent out was Buffalo Trace (it came with Fever Tree ginger beer, along with vermouth, bitters, and maraschino cherries). For now, the three-month-old company can only ship to New York and California, but it expects this to change soon.
Bitters + Bottles Cocktail subscription service
16. Japanese Candy Subscription Box
Two Tokyo natives started this company after moving to Hawaii and receiving frequent requests for Japanese snacks — they now handpick the 10 sample-size snacks and candies in each month's box. December's assortment included something called a mini baum roll, a baby's rice cracker (the packaging has pictures of bottles and babies), and a strawberry-flavored Kit Kat bar.
17. Ice Cream Pint of the Month Club
Launched at Coachella (where else?) by a former architect and a real estate developer, Coolhaus offers pints of ice cream in flavors like fried chicken and waffles, banana honey mescal, and beer and pretzels. "We want to be to architecture what Ben & Jerry's are to rock 'n' roll," said co-founder Natasha Case. The ice cream is all natural, mostly organic, and made with no artificial ingredients whatsoever. Shipping can get a bit costly (it involves dry ice and overnighting) but it ensures your pint will still be frozen when it arrives.
Coolhaus Pint of the Month Club
$29 for a pint a month for three months (shipping not included)